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Guide Profile: Sam Cooke


Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke in his prime.


Samuel Cook


b: January 22, 1931 (Clarksdale, MS) d: December 11, 1964 (Los Angeles, CA)


Soul, Pop, Gospel, R&B



#1 Hits:

Pop: "You Send Me" R&B: "You Send Me," "Twistin' The Night Away," "Another Saturday Night"

Top 10 Hits:

Pop: "Chain Gang," "Twistin' The Night Away," "Another Saturday Night," "Shake" R&B: "Lonely Island," "Win Your Love For Me," "You Were Made For Me," "Chain Gang," "Wonderful World," "Bring It On Home To Me," "Having A Party," "Nothing Can Change This Love," "Somebody Have Mercy," "Frankie And Johnny," "Little Red Rooster," "Send Me Some Lovin'," "Shake," "A Change Is Gonna Come"

#1 Albums:

R&B: Sam Cooke At The Copa, Shake

Top 10 Albums:

R&B: The Best Of Sam Cooke, The Best Of Sam Cooke, Volume 2


Other giants of rock n' roll's golden era can claim to have fathered or godfathered soul music -- Ray Charles and James Brown most notably. But no one could claim stronger ties to the music's gospel roots than Sam Cooke. Other singers may have taken what they learned from church and put a secular face on it, but Sam was from the church tradition -- son of a Baptist minister and a member of gospel groups since his childhood. Indeed, Sam's name would live on even if he'd never left the Soul Stirrers, the Fifties vocal group whose Specialty sides of the Fifties remain some of the most genuinely beatific gospel music ever recorded. But Sam, like many African-Americans of his generation, wanted more.

He got it, but whether he went too far to get it remains a bone of contention among pop fans and soul purists. Signing with Keen in 1957, Cooke proved from the start that he had the songwriter's instincts to match his high, golden voice, penning hits like "You Send Me," "Only Sixteen" and others, classics that took teen love and bathed it in the glow of Cooke's shining vocal presence. But when he signed with the production team of Hugo and Luigi at RCA in 1960, his music began to take on even more pop overtones -- perhaps only Elvis could have sold hokey songs like "Cousin of Mine" and "Everybody Likes To Cha-Cha-Cha" with equal authority.

But it's also worth remembering that Sam was always a more prominent fixture on the R&B charts than on pop radio, no matter what the song of the moment. Something in that magical voice just seemed to speak to the black community, and not just because Cooke hung out with Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali or delivered one of the Sixties' great protest songs, "A Change Is Gonna Come," just before his mysterious death in a 1964 motel shooting. Sam Cooke was a rebel in the same way many of his contemporaries were, black and white: he just never looked or sounded the part. And that blame can be laid squarely at the feet of our own cultural myopia.

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