|Birth name||Samuel Cook|
|Born||January 22, 1931|
Clarksdale, Mississippi, U.S.
|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, U.S.|
|Died||December 11, 1964 (aged 33)|
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
Samuel Cook (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964), known professionally as Sam Cooke, was an American singer and songwriter. Considered to be a pioneer and one of the most influential soul artists of all time, Cooke is commonly referred to as the "King of Soul" for his distinctive vocals, notable contributions to the genre and significance in popular music.
Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi and later relocated to Chicago with his family at a young age, where he began singing as a child and joined the Soul Stirrers as lead singer in the 1950s. Going solo in 1957, Cooke released a string of hit songs, including "You Send Me", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "Cupid", "Wonderful World", "Chain Gang", "Twistin' the Night Away", "Bring It On Home to Me", and "Good Times". During his eight-year career, Cooke released 29 singles that charted in the Top 40 of the Billboard Pop Singles chart, as well as 20 singles in the Top Ten of Billboard's Black Singles chart.
In 1964, Cooke was shot and killed by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles. After an inquest and investigation, the courts ruled Cooke's death to be a justifiable homicide. His family has since questioned the circumstances of his death.
Cooke's pioneering contributions to soul music contributed to the rise of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and Billy Preston, and popularized the work of Otis Redding and James Brown. AllMusic biographer Bruce Eder wrote that Cooke was "the inventor of soul music", and possessed "an incredible natural singing voice and a smooth, effortless delivery that has never been surpassed".
Cooke was also a central part of the civil rights movement, using his influence and popularity with the white and Black populations to fight for the cause. He was friends with boxer Muhammad Ali, activist Malcolm X and football player Jim Brown, who together campaigned for racial equality.
Cooke was born Samuel Cook in Clarksdale, Mississippi, in 1931 (he added the "e" to his last name in 1957 to signify a new start to his life). He was the fifth of eight children of the Rev. Charles Cook, a minister in the Church of Christ (Holiness), and his wife, Annie Mae. One of his younger brothers, L.C. (1932–2017), later became a member of the doo-wop band Johnny Keyes and the Magnificents.
The family moved to Chicago in 1933. Cook attended Doolittle Elementary and Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, the same school that Nat "King" Cole had attended a few years earlier. Cooke began his career with his siblings in a group called the Singing Children when he was six years old. He first became known as lead singer with the Highway Q.C.'s when he was a teenager, having joined the group at the age of 14. During this time, Cooke befriended fellow gospel singer and neighbor Lou Rawls, who sang in a rival gospel group.
Main article: The Soul Stirrers
In 1950, Cooke replaced gospel tenor R. H. Harris as lead singer of the gospel group the Soul Stirrers, founded by Harris, who had signed with Specialty Records on behalf of the group. Their first recording under Cooke's leadership was the song "Jesus Gave Me Water" in 1951. They also recorded the gospel songs "Peace in the Valley", "How Far Am I from Canaan?", "Jesus Paid the Debt" and "One More River", among many others, some of which he wrote. Cooke was often credited for bringing gospel music to the attention of a younger crowd of listeners, mainly girls who would rush to the stage when the Soul Stirrers hit the stage just to get a glimpse of Cooke.
Billboard's 2015 list of "the 35 Greatest R&B Artists Of All Time" includes Cooke, "who broke ground in 1957 with the R&B/pop crossover hit "You Send Me" ... And his activism on the civil rights front resulted in the quiet protest song 'A Change Is Gonna Come'".
Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, plus three more posthumously. Major hits like "You Send Me", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "Cupid", "Chain Gang", "Wonderful World", "Another Saturday Night", and "Twistin' the Night Away" are some of his most popular songs. Twistin' the Night Away was one of his biggest selling albums. 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 Civil Rights Movement.
His first pop/soul single was "Lovable" (1956), a remake of the gospel song "Wonderful". It was released under the alias "Dale Cook" in order not to alienate his gospel fan base; 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 singing Gershwin, he was quite upset. After an argument between Rupe and Blackwell, Cooke and Blackwell left the label. "Lovable" was never a hit, but neither did it flop, and indicated Cooke's future potential. While gospel was popular, Cooke saw that fans were mostly limited to low-income, rural parts of the country, and sought to branch out. Cooke later admitted he got an endorsement for a career in pop music from the least likely man, his pastor father. "My father told me it was not what I sang that was important, but that God gave me a voice and musical talent and the true use of His gift was to share it and make people happy." Taking the name "Sam Cooke", he sought a fresh start in pop.
In 1957, Cooke appeared on ABC's The Guy Mitchell Show. That same year, he signed with Keen Records. His first hit, "You Send Me", released as the B-side of "Summertime", spent six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart. The song also had mainstream success, spending three weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart. It elevated him from earning $200 a week to over $5,000 a week.
In 1958, Cooke performed for the famed Cavalcade of Jazz concert produced by Leon Hefflin Sr. held at the Shrine Auditorium on August 3. The other headliners were Little Willie John, Ray Charles, Ernie Freeman, and Bo Rhambo. Sammy Davis Jr. was there to crown the winner of the Miss Cavalcade of Jazz beauty contest. The event featured the top four prominent disc jockeys of Los Angeles.
Cooke signed with the RCA Victor record label in January 1960, having been offered a guaranteed $100,000 (equivalent to $920,000 in 2021) by the label's producers Hugo & Luigi. One of his first RCA Victor singles was "Chain Gang", which reached No. 2 on the Billboard pop chart. It was followed by more hits, including "Sad Mood", "Cupid", "Bring It On Home to Me" (with Lou Rawls on backing vocals), "Another Saturday Night", and "Twistin' the Night Away".
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 (who were Bobby Womack and his brothers), Mel Carter and Johnnie Taylor. Cooke then created a publishing imprint and management firm named Kags.
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. He was a prolific songwriter and wrote most of the songs he recorded. He also had a hand in overseeing some of the song arrangements. In spite of releasing mostly singles, 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.
In 1963, Cooke signed a five-year contract for Allen Klein to manage Kags Music and SAR Records and made him his manager. Klein negotiated a five-year deal (three years plus two option years) with RCA Victor in which a holding company, Tracey, Ltd, named after Cooke's daughter, owned by Klein and managed by J. W. Alexander, would produce and own Cooke's recordings. RCA Victor would get exclusive distribution rights in exchange for 6 percent royalty payments and payments for the recording sessions. For tax reasons, Cooke would receive preferred stock in Tracey instead of an initial cash advance of $100,000. Cooke would receive cash advances of $100,000 for the next two years, followed by an additional $75,000 for each of the two option years if the deal went to term.
Cooke was married twice. His first marriage was to singer-dancer Dolores Elizabeth Milligan Cook, who took the stage name "Dee Dee Mohawk" in 1953; they divorced in 1958. She was killed in an auto collision in Fresno, California in 1959. Although he and Dolores were divorced, Cooke paid for his ex-wife's funeral expenses. She was survived by her son Joey.
In 1958, Cooke married his second wife, Barbara Campbell (1935–2021), in Chicago. His father performed the ceremony. They had three children, Linda (b. 1953), Tracy (b. 1960), and Vincent (1961–1963), who drowned in the family swimming pool. Less than three months after Cooke's death, his widow, Barbara, married his friend Bobby Womack. Barbara and Womack divorced after she discover Womack was having an affair with Cooke's 17-year-old daughter, Linda. Linda married Womack's brother, Cecil Womack and they became the duo Womack & Womack.
Cooke also fathered at least three other children out of wedlock. In 1958, a woman in Philadelphia, Connie Bolling, claimed Cooke was the father of her son. Cooke paid her an estimated $5,000 settlement out of court.
In November 1958, Cooke was involved in a car accident en route from St. Louis to Greenville. His chauffeur Edward Cunningham was killed, while Cooke, guitarist Cliff White, and singer Lou Rawls were hospitalized.
"Lady, you shot me" redirects here. For the Har Mar Superstar song, see Bye Bye 17.
Cooke was killed at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964, at the Hacienda Motel, in South Central Los Angeles, California, located at 91st and South Figueroa Street. Answering separate reports of a shooting and a kidnapping at the motel, police found Cooke's body. He had sustained a gunshot wound to the chest, which was later determined to have pierced his heart.
The motel's manager, Bertha Franklin, said she shot him in self-defense. Her account was immediately disputed by Cooke's acquaintances. The motel's owner, Evelyn Carr,[note 1] said that she had been on the telephone with Franklin at the time of the incident. Carr said she overheard Cooke's intrusion and the ensuing conflict and gunshot, and called the police.
The police record states that Franklin fatally shot Cooke, who had checked in earlier that evening. Franklin said that Cooke had banged on the door of her office, shouting "Where's the girl?!", in reference to Elisa Boyer, a woman who had accompanied Cooke to the motel, and who had called the police that night from a telephone booth near the motel minutes before Carr had.
Cooke was struck once in the torso. According to Franklin, he exclaimed, "Lady, you shot me", in a tone that expressed perplexity rather than anger, before advancing on her again. She said she hit him in the head with a broomstick before he finally fell to the floor and died. A coroner's inquest was convened to investigate the incident.
Elisa Boyer said she ran first to the manager's office and knocked on the door seeking help. However, she said that the manager took too long to respond, so, fearing Cooke would soon be coming after her, she fled from the motel before the manager opened the door. She said she then put her clothes back on, hid Cooke's clothing, went to a telephone booth, and called the police.
Boyer's account is the only one that exists of what happened between her and Cooke that night, and it has long been called into question. Inconsistencies between her version of events and details reported by diners at Martoni's Restaurant, where Cooke dined and drank earlier in the evening, suggest that Boyer may have gone willingly to the motel with Cooke, then slipped out of the room with his clothing to rob him, rather than to escape an attempted rape.
According to restaurant employees and friends, Cooke was carrying a large amount of money at Martoni's. However, a search of Boyer's purse by police revealed nothing except a $20 bill, and a search of Cooke's Ferrari found only a money clip with $108, as well as a few loose coins near the ashtray.
In addition, because Carr's testimony corroborated Franklin's version of events, and because both Boyer and Franklin later passed polygraph tests, the coroner's jury ultimately accepted Franklin's explanation and returned a verdict of justifiable homicide. With that verdict, authorities officially closed the case on Cooke's death.
Some of Cooke's family and supporters, however, have rejected Boyer's version of events, as well as those given by Franklin and Carr. They believe that there was a conspiracy to murder Cooke and that the murder took place in some manner entirely different from the three official accounts.
On the perceived lack of an investigation, Cooke's close friend Muhammad Ali said: "If Cooke had been Frank Sinatra, the Beatles or Ricky Nelson, the FBI would be investigating".
Singer Etta James viewed Cooke's body before his funeral and questioned the accuracy of the official version of events. She wrote that the injuries she observed were well beyond the official account of Cooke having fought Franklin alone. James wrote that Cooke was so badly beaten that his head was nearly separated from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed, and his nose mangled.
Some have speculated that Cooke's manager, Allen Klein, had a role in his death. Klein owned Tracey Ltd, which ultimately owned all rights to Cooke's recordings. However, no concrete evidence supporting a criminal conspiracy has been presented.
The first funeral service for Cooke was held on December 18, 1964, at A. R. Leak Funeral Home in Chicago; 200,000 fans lined up for more than four city blocks to view his body. Afterward, his body was flown back to Los Angeles for a second service, at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church on December 19, which included a much-heralded performance of "The Angels Keep Watching Over Me" by Ray Charles, who stood in for a grief-stricken Bessie Griffin. Cooke was interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Two singles and an album were released in the month after his death. One of the singles, "Shake", reached the top ten of both the pop and R&B charts. The B-side, "A Change Is Gonna Come", is considered a classic protest song from the era of the civil rights movement. It was a Top 40 pop hit and a top 10 R&B hit. The album, also titled Shake, reached the number one spot for R&B albums.
Bertha Franklin said she received numerous death threats after shooting Cooke. She left her position at the Hacienda Motel and did not publicly disclose where she had moved. After being cleared by the coroner's jury, she sued Cooke's estate, citing physical injuries and mental anguish suffered as a result of Cooke's attack. Her lawsuit sought $200,000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Barbara Womack countersued Franklin on behalf of the estate, seeking $7,000 in damages to cover Cooke's funeral expenses. Elisa Boyer provided testimony in support of Franklin in the case. In 1967, a jury ruled in favor of Franklin on both counts, awarding her $30,000 in damages.
Cooke was portrayed by Paul Mooney in The Buddy Holly Story, a 1978 American biographical film which tells the life story of rock musician Buddy Holly.
In the stage play One Night in Miami, first performed in 2013, Cooke is portrayed by Arinzé Kene. In the 2020 film adaptation, he is played by Leslie Odom Jr., who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal.
Main article: Sam Cooke discography
That he was killed after being scammed by a prostitute just didn't make sense to many people. It's an end that his sister, Agnes Cooke-Hoskins, still discounts. 'My brother was first class all the way. He would not check into a $3-a-night motel; that wasn't his style,' she said while attending a recent tribute to Cooke at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
I've always felt there was some sort of conspiracy there. ... I listened to the reports and I listened to the story of what happened and I can imagine Sam going after his pants. I can imagine Sam going up to the counter and saying 'Hey, somebody just took my pants.' And he's standing there, seeing the woman with his pants. I can imagine him saying 'Give me my pants.' But I can't imagine him attacking her. He wasn't that type of person to attack somebody. That wasn't his bag. He was a lover, OK. He wasn't a fighter. He wasn't a boxer. You never heard of Sam Cooke beating up his women.
...I would say within the community there is not a single person that believes that Sam Cooke died as he is said to have died: killed by a motel owner at a cheap motel in Los Angeles called the Hacienda which he had gone to with a prostitute named Elisa Boyer. I could have filled 100 pages of the book with an appendix on all the theories about his death. Central tenet of every one of those theories is that this was a case of another proud black man brought down by the white establishment who simply didn't want to see him grow any bigger. I looked into this very carefully. I had access to the private investigators' report, which nobody had seen and which filled in a good many more details. And no evidence has ever been adduced to prove any of these theories.
'In the course of the two or three hundred different interviews with different people that I did for the book, there are two or three hundred different conspiracy theories,' he said. 'While they were all extremely interesting, and while every one of them reflected a basic truth about prejudice in America in 1964 and the truth of the prejudice that has continued into the present day, none of them came accompanied by any evidence beyond that metaphorical truth.'
It's hard to buy into conspiracy theories, though several swirl around this incident that paint Cooke as the victim of a plot by white supremacists to silence the country's most popular self-empowered black man.
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