by Robert Wilkinson
Today would have been the 83rd birthday of one of the pioneers and founders of “Soul music,” a man with one of the smoothest voices ever to grace the airwaves, Mister Sam Cooke.
Sam Cooke (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964) was a gospel singer who blazed the trail for a thousand other Soul music performers. He combined gospel, pop, and rock and roll to create the genre we now call “soul music.” From Wikipedia:
Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, and a further three after his death. Major hits like “You Send Me,” “A Change is Gonna Come,” “Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” “Wonderful World,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away” are some of his most popular songs. Cooke was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the American Civil Rights Movement.
On December 11, 1964, Cooke was fatally shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, CA, at the age of 33. At the time, the courts ruled that Cooke was drunk and distressed, and that the manager had killed Cooke in what was later ruled a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been widely questioned.
I loved his music when I was young, and his death hit me hard. Between 1963 and 1970 a whole lot of famous people, powerful people who actually gave a damn, got shot in the US for all kinds of reasons. That affected us more than America has been willing to admit.
For your enjoyment, the silken voice of Mister Sam Cooke! I found a fair amount of performance footage, no small feat given he was big before there was widespread videotaping of music acts.
From 1958, Sam Cooke on the Arthur Murray Dance Party singing “Mary Lou”
For a further trip down the rabbit hole, here’s the entire Dick Clark segment featuring Sam Cooke followed by Frankie Avalon lip-synching his first hit, “Venus.” As an old television programmer, I consider this “whiplash” programming, since it takes us from the sublime to the absurd, complete with screaming prepubescent girls!! For your amusement, Sam Cooke and Frankie Avalon
From 1963, Sam Cooke in a live tv performance of “Twistin’ the Night Away”
Here’s Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson in a live video performance of “Cha Cha Cha”
For a sense of just how kinetic this pioneer Soul music lightning rod was, check these audio-only performances of Sam at the Harlem Square Club in 1963! We begin with “Cupid,” “It’s All Right,” and “Sentimental Reasons” and follow it with “Don’t Fight It,” “Feel It,” and “Chain Gang”
From Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, a 1964 live video of Sam offering up “Good News”
From another time when we marched and sang and protested and came together for a world without war, Sam in a live performance of Bob Dylan’s timeless tune “Blowin’ In The Wind”
From the Copa in 1964, here’s a great audio-only live soulful performance of the civil rights standard, “If I Had A Hammer”
From here on, it’s the original studio recordings! Between the ones I've already given you, and some to come, these are among the most memorable tunes ever recorded!
The original studio version of this song made it to #2 on the charts! Here’s Sam singing "Chain Gang"
The tune Otis made into a hit a few years later done by the original! Sam Cooke doing "Shake"
For soothing your Soul, here’s the original studio version by Sam Cooke in 1964 of the haunting “Good Times” Here’s the original studio version from their “Out of Our Heads” album, the Rolling Stones version of “Good Times”
We’ll close this tribute with the original studio version of one of the greatest songs to come out of the American Civil Rights Movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” If you don't hear one other song today, this one is for the ages!
For a final moment, here’s a great 1 minute clip of Sam and the Great Muhammad Ali live doing an a cappella duet of “The Gang’s All Here”
Here’s a great 6 part documentary of the Man. He really was a pioneer in writing, production, and taking control of his career, and blazed the trail for a lot of those who followed in his footsteps!
Sam Cooke Biography – pt. 1 (9+ min)
Sam Cooke Biography – pt. 2 (9+ min)
Sam Cooke Biography – pt. 3 (9+ min)
Sam Cooke Biography – pt. 4 (9+ min)
Sam Cooke Biography – pt. 5 (9+ min)
Sam Cooke Biography – pt. 6 (9+ min)
Sam Cooke Biography – pt. 6 (9+ min)
Happy RIP birthday, Sam. It seems LA was a tough gig back in the 60s, especially if you were successful in shew biz, since if you crossed the wrong people (in your case idiot mobsters) you wound up very dead very fast. It would seem your death wasn’t accidental, but it’s now ancient history.
You had one of the sweetest voices in the world, and gave us great tunes while you were alive. We can only wish you had been around longer. RIP, number one Soul brother.
© Copyright 2014 Robert Wilkinson