"Sam Cooke had one of the most unique original singing
styles I have ever heard. He was my favorite." SMOKEY
"Sam Cooke is somebody other singers have to measure
themselves against, and most of them go back to pumping gas."
KEITH RICHARDS of the Rolling Stones
"Sam Cooke was the
only one that really influenced me. Over a period of two years, that's all I listened
to." Rod StewartRolling Stone Magazine, June 8 , 1972.
Sam Cooke was an American gospel, R&B, soul, and pop
singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. He is considered to be one of the pioneers and founders of soul
Cooke had 29 Top 40 hits in the U.S. between 1957 and 1965. Major
hits like "You Send Me", "A Change Is Gonna Come," "Chain Gang", "Wonderful World" and "Bring It on Home to Me" 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.
Sam Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He added an "e"
onto the end of his name because he thought it added a touch of class. He was one of seven children of Annie Mae
and the Reverend Charles Cook, a Baptist minister. The family moved to Chicago in 1933.
His first pop single, "Lovable" (1956), was released under the
alias of "Dale Cooke" in order to not alienate his gospel 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 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 signed with Keen Records. His first release was
"You Send Me " which spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart. The song also had massive
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. 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
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 33 on December 11, 1964 at the Hacienda
Motel at 9137 South Figueroa in Los Angeles, California, which has since been torn down. He was shot to death by
Bertha Franklin, manager of the motel who claimed that he had threatened her, and that she killed him in
self-defense. The shooting was ultimately ruled to be a justifiable homicide, though there have been arguments that
crucial details did not come out in court, or were buried afterward. Cooke was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial
Park Cemetery, Glendale, California.