(January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964) was a popular and influential
American gospel, R&B, soul, pop singer, songwriter, and
entrepreneur. Indeed, musicians and critics today recognize him as
one of the true founders of soul music, and as one of most important
singer in soul music history.
The title "the
king of soul" is often over-used but Sam Cooke's legacy is a very
big one. He had 29 Top 40 hits in the U.S. between 1957 and 1965. He
is therefore seen by many as "the creator" of the genre. Major hits
like "You Send Me", "Chain Gang ", "Wonderful World" and "Bring It
On Home To Me" are among some of his very best work.
Cooke was also
among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to
the business side of his musical career, and 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 Civil Rights
Movement, paralleling his musical ability to bridge gaps between
black and white audiences.
was born Samuel Cook in Chicago, Illinois (he added an "e"
onto the end of his name because he thought it added a touch of
class). He was one of eight children of Annie Mae and Rev. Charles
Cook, a Pentecostal minister. The family moved to
Cooke began his
musical career as a member of a quartet with his siblings, the
Singing Children, followed by a turn as a teenager as a member of
the Highway QCs, a gospel group. In
1950, at the age of 19, he joined The Soul Stirrers and achieved
significant success and fame within the gospel community.
His first pop
single, "Lovable" (1956) was released under the alias of "Dale
Cooke," in order to not alienate his fan base; there was a
considerable taboo against gospel singers performing secular music.
However, the alias failed to hide Cooke's unique and distinctive
vocals. No one was fooled. 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 was unhappy about the type of
music Cooke and Bumps Blackwell, Cooke's pop producer, 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, and Cooke signed with Keen Records in
1957. His first release was "You Send Me", which spent six weeks at
#1 on the
Billboard R&B chart but which also had massive mainstream
success, spending three weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart.
In addition to
his success in writing his own songs and achieving mainstream fame —
a truly remarkable accomplishment for an R&B singer at that time —
Cooke continued to astonish the music business in the 1960s with the
founding of his own label, SAR Records, which 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. This 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 29 top
40 hits on the pop charts, and more on the R&B charts. In spite of
this, he released a critically acclaimed blues-inflected LP in 1963,
Night Beat. He was known for having written many of the most
popular songs of all time in the genre, and is often unaccredited
for many of them by the general public.
Cooke died at
the age of 33 under mysterious circumstances on December 11, 1964 in
Los Angeles, California. Though the details of the case are still in
dispute, it seems he was shot to death by
Bertha Franklin, manager of the Hacienda Motel in South Los
Angeles, who claimed that he had threatened her, and that she killed
him in self-defense. The verdict was justifiable homicide, though
many believe that crucial details did not come out in court, or were
buried afterward. Cooke was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial
releases followed, many of which became hits, including "A Change Is
Gonna Come", an early protest song which 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 was inducted as a charter member of the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
influence has been immense: even people who have never heard one of
his records have still heard his voice and phrasing if they have
listened to any Rod Stewart or Southside Johnny. Other rock artists
with a notable Cooke heritage include
The Animals, Simon and Garfunkel, Van Morrison, James
Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Perry, and numerous others, while
R&B and soul artists indebted to Cooke include
Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Otis
Redding, Lou Rawls, Al Green, and again many more. Shortly following
his passing, Motown Records released We Remember Sam Cooke, a
collection of Cooke covers recorded by The Supremes.
World" was a featured song in the film National Lampoon's Animal
House, one song in that film that was not a "party" song. The
song was also featured in the film Hitch with
verse of "Wonderful World" — "Don't know much about [history,
geography, etc.]" — provided the inspiration for titles of several
books authored by writer Kenneth C. Davis. His books explored both
basic and lesser-known facts about those subjects.
involving Cooke's murder
The details of
the case involving Sam Cooke's death are still in dispute. The
official police record states that Cooke was shot to death,
apparently by Bertha Franklin, the
manager of the Hacienda Motel, where Cooke had checked in earlier
claimed that Cooke had broken into the manager's office/apartment in
a rage, wearing nothing but a shoe and an overcoat (and nothing
beneath it) demanding to know the whereabouts of a woman who had
accompanied him to the motel. Franklin said that the woman was not
in the office and that she told Cooke this, but the enraged Cooke
did not believe her and violently grabbed her demanding again to
know the woman's whereabouts. According to
she grappled with Cooke, the two of them fell to the floor, and she
then got up and ran to retrieve her gun. She said that she then
fired at Cooke in self-defense because she feared for her life.
Cooke exclaimed, "Lady, you shot me," before finally falling,
Franklin and to the motel's owner, Evelyn Carr, they had been on the
phone together at the time of the incident. Thus, Carr claimed to
have overheard Cooke's intrusion and the ensuing confrontation and
gunshots. Carr called the police to request that they go to the
motel, informing them that she believed a shooting had occurred.
inquest was convened to investigate the incident. The woman who had
accompanied Cooke to the motel was identified as Elisa Boyer, who
had also called the police that night shortly before Carr did. Boyer
had called the police from a phone booth near the motel, telling
them she had just escaped from being kidnapped.
Boyer told the
police that she had first met Cooke earlier that night and had spent
the evening in his company. She claimed that after they left a local
nightclub together, she had repeatedly requested that he take her
home, but that he instead took her against her will to the Hacienda
Motel. She claimed that once in one of the motel's rooms, Cooke
physically forced her onto the bed and that she was certain he was
going to rape her. According to Boyer, when Cooke stepped into the
bathroom for a moment, she quickly grabbed her clothes and ran from
the room. She claimed that in her haste, she had also scooped up
most of Cooke's clothing by mistake. She said that she ran first to
the manager's office and knocked on the door seeking help. However,
she said that the manager took too long in responding, so, fearing
Cooke would soon be coming after her, she fled the motel altogether
before the manager ever opened the door. She claimed she then put
her own clothing back on, stashed Cooke's clothing away and went to
the phone booth from which she called police.
is the only account of what happened between the two that night.
However, her story has long been called into question. Due to
inconsistencies between her version of events and details reported
by other witnesses, as well as other circumstantial evidence (e.g.
cash Cooke was reportedly carrying that was never recovered, and the
fact that Boyer was soon after arrested for prostitution), many
people feel it is more likely that Boyer went willingly to the motel
with Cooke, and then slipped out of the room with Cooke's clothing
in order to rob him, rather than in order to escape an attempted
though, such questions were beyond the scope of the inquest, whose
purpose was simply to establish the circumstances of Franklin's role
in the shooting, not to determine exactly what had happened between
Cooke and Boyer preceding that. Boyer's leaving the motel room with
almost all of Cooke's clothing in tow, regardless of exactly why she
did so, combined with the fact that tests showed Cooke was
inebriated at the time, seemed to provide a plausible explanation
for Cooke's bizarre behaviour and state of dress, as reported by
Franklin and Carr. This explanation together with the fact that
Carr, from what she said she had overheard, corroborated
version of events, was enough to convince the coroner's jury to
accept Franklin's explanation that it was a case of justifiable
homicide. And with that verdict, authorities officially closed the
case on Cooke's death.
of Cooke's family and supporters have rejected not only Boyer's
version of events, but also Franklin's and Carr's. They believe that
there was a conspiracy from the start to murder Cooke, that this
murder did in fact take place in some manner entirely different from
the official account of Cooke's intrusion into
office/apartment, and that Franklin, Boyer and Carr were all lying
to provide a cover story for this murder.
My brother was
first class all the way. He would not check into a $3 a night motel;
that wasn't his style.
Cooke-Hoskins, sister of Sam Cooke, attending the Rock and Roll Hall
of Fame's 2005 tribute to Cooke.
To date, no
solid evidence supporting such a conspiracy theory has been
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