Sam Cooke (January 22, 1931 - December 11, 1964) was one of the most important pioneers of soul music. First coming to the attention of the world as a member of the Soul Stirrers gospel group, Cooke ultimately went solo and "crossed over" in a way that few before him had done.
Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later added an "e" onto the end of his name, though the reason for this is disputed. He was one of seven children of Annie Mae and the Reverend Charles Cook, a Baptist minister. The family moved to Chicago in 1933. Cooke attended Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, the same school that had been attended earlier by Nat "King" Cole.
Cooke began his career singing gospel with his siblings in a group called The Singing Children. He first became known as lead singer with the Highway QC's as a teenager. In 1950, Cooke replaced gospel tenor R.H. Harris as lead singer of the landmark gospel group The Soul Stirrers. Under Cooke's leadership, the group signed with Specialty Records and recorded the hits "Peace in the Valley", "How Far Am I From Canaan?", "Jesus Paid the Debt" and "One More River".
His first pop single, "Lovable" (1956), was released under the alias "Dale Cooke" in order not to alienate his gospel fan base (he sang with the Soul Stirrers until 1957); there was a considerable stigma against gospel singers performing secular music. However, it fooled no one - Cooke's unique and distinctive vocals were easily recognized. Art Rupe, head of Specialty Records, the label of the Soul Stirrers, gave his blessing for Cooke to record secular music under his real name, but he was unhappy about the type of music Cooke and producer Bumps Blackwell were making. Rupe expected Cooke's secular music to be similar to that of another Specialty Records artist, Little Richard. When Rupe walked in on a recording session and heard Cooke covering Gershwin, he was quite upset. After an argument between Rupe and Blackwell, Cooke and Blackwell left the label.
In 1957, Cooke appeared on ABC's The Guy Mitchell Show. That same year, he signed with Keen Records. His first release was "You Send Me", the B-side of his first Keen single (the A-side was a reworking of George Gershwin's "Summertime") which spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart. The song also had mainstream success, spending three weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart.
In 1961, Cooke started his own record label, SAR Records, with J.W. Alexander and his manager, Roy Crain. The label soon included The Simms Twins, The Valentinos, Bobby Womack, and Johnnie Taylor. Cooke then created a publishing imprint and management firm, then left Keen to sign with RCA Victor. One of his first RCA singles was the hit "Chain Gang". It reached #2 on the Billboard pop chart and was followed by more hits, including "Sad Mood," "Bring it on Home to Me" (with Lou Rawls on backing vocals), "Another Saturday Night" and "Twistin' the Night Away".
Like most R&B artists of his time, Cooke focused on singles; in all he had twenty-nine top-40 hits on the pop charts, and more on the R&B charts. In spite of this, he released a well received blues-inflected LP in 1963, Night Beat, and his most critically acclaimed studio album Ain't That Good News, which featured five singles, in 1964.
Cooke died at the age of thirty-three on December 11, 1964, at the Hacienda Motel at 9137 South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles, California, which has since been torn down. Bertha Franklin, manager of the motel, told police that she shot and killed Cooke in self-defense because he had threatened her. Police found Cooke's body in Franklin's apartment-office, clad only in a sports jacket and shoes, but no shirt, pants or underwear. The shooting was ultimately ruled a justifiable homicide. Cooke was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California. There has for years been great controversy about the nature of Cooke's death.
Some posthumous releases followed, many of which became hits, including "A Change Is Gonna Come", an early protest song that is generally regarded as his greatest composition. After Cooke's death, his widow, Barbara, married Bobby Womack. Cooke's daughter, Linda, later married Bobby's brother, Cecil.
Cooke's legacy has grown since his death, and his music continues to prosper via covers from hundreds of major artists.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Cooke"HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Cooke"Sam Cooke.