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Sam Cooke Foresaw The Change That Came

Most things that we find pleasure in today have been pioneered by a Black person. The erasure of Black accomplishments and credit can be seen historically. One thing that is close to impossible to try and white wash is the origin and popularization of music. When you think about the music from the 50s and 60s one of the first names that may come to mind is Sam Cooke. Known as a pioneer of Soul, he had strong ties in the Pop and Gospel lanes. Cooke was one of the earliest artists to span both more than one genre.

Born Sam Cook on January 22,1931; as the E was added on later on in his life, was considered a kind of “golden child” to his family. There were many stories told about Cooke regarding his tenacity for performance at a young age and his entrepreneurial spirit. As the middle child out of 8 to a minister who had high hopes for the future of his children, there was no other option but greatness. After the Church of Christ(Holiness) split due to differences, the Cooks remained believers of the smaller followed Reverend Jones sector of the religion. Sam's father, Charles Cook, began hitchhiking from their home in Mississippi to Chicago with cents in his pockets in order to make the money needed to give his children an edge to get ahead. After weeks of working and preaching, he sent for his wife and children to meet him in Chicago.

Starting off as a gospel singer, due to his religious roots, he joined The Soul Stirrers at 15 years old and was the lead vocalist of the group until 1957. With his voice being as powerful as his personality, he drew the attention of congregations and audiences all around him. The same year he left the group he recorded his first solo record entitled Lovable under the name Dale Cook, in order to keep him out of the Gospel Communities sights. With his fathers blessing and his popularity in the Gospel scene being at an all time high, he made the transition to secular music with You Send Me topping the pop and R&B charts. It was his first Top Forty hit but wouldn’t be his last as he went on to have 28 more of his songs reach the same acclaim.

The following year, in 1958, Cooke signed with the William Morris Agency and was on plenty of TV programs, including the popular The Ed Sullivan Show. Later on that year, he was the first R&B singer to perform at Copacabana, a club that had been off limits to those in his genre before; he was opening the doors for the artists that looked and sounded like him.

After signing to RCA in 1960 he was pushing out hits like a well oiled machine. Cooke was able to write and perform anything, from Ballads, to Pop, R&B, and even Rock. Cookes music was universal and touched audiences from all demographics. Not boxing himself in as just an artist, he founded his own publishing company, Kags Music, which led to his own label, SAR Records. He’s produced and written music for artists hoping to make the same transition he did from Gospel into secular like Bobby Womack, Johnnie Taylor, and Billy Preston. As on of the major Black artists at the time, he became a truly inspirational force to his community in the music industry.

His refusal to perform for segregated audiences led to what has been called one of the first real efforts in civil disobedience within the brewing Civil Rights era. Cookes most popular and impactful song, A Change Is Gonna Come, became the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, which he intended.

At the height of his career, Sam Cooke passed away on December 11th, 1964 from gunshot wounds inflicted onto him by the Hacienda Motels manager who claimed Cooke threatened her life.

Sam Cooke's life and legacy lives on in every time Change Is Gonna Come is featured in a film and any time a soulful note is hummed.


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