Cooke in 1963
|Birth name||Samuel Cook|
|Also known as||Dale 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.
Influential as both a singer and composer, he is commonly known as the King of Soul for his distinctive vocals and importance within popular music. He began singing as a child and joined The Soul Stirrers before moving to a solo career where he scored a string of hit songs like "You Send Me", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "Wonderful World", "Chain Gang", "Twistin' the Night Away", and "Bring it on Home to Me".
His 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 likes 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".
On December 11, 1964, at the age of 33, Cooke was shot and killed by Bertha Franklin, the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California. After an inquest, the courts ruled Cooke's death to be a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been called into question by Cooke's family.
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. Sam 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 QC'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.
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.
Crossover pop success
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 covering Gershwin, he was quite upset. After an argument between Rupe and Blackwell, Cooke and Blackwell left the label.
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.
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), Bobby Womack and Johnnie Taylor. Cooke then created a publishing imprint and management firm named Kags before leaving Keen to sign with RCA Victor. 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".
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 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. Cooke and his second wife, Barbara Campbell Cooke, had three children, Linda (b.1953), Tracy (b.1960), and Vincent (1961–1963). Cooke also fathered at least three other children out of wedlock.
Cooke died at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964, at the Hacienda Motel, in Los Angeles, California. Answering separate reports of a shooting and of a kidnapping at the motel, police found Cooke's body, clad only in a sports jacket and shoes but no shirt, pants or underwear. 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 had shot Cooke in self-defense after he broke into her office residence and attacked her. Her account was immediately disputed by Cooke's acquaintances.
The official police record states that Franklin fatally shot Cooke, who had checked in earlier that evening. Franklin said that Cooke had broken into the manager's office-apartment in a rage, wearing nothing but a shoe and a sports coat, demanding to know the whereabouts of a woman who had accompanied him to the motel. Franklin said 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 Franklin, she grappled with Cooke, the two of them fell to the floor, and she then got up and ran to retrieve a gun. She said she then fired at Cooke in self-defense because she feared for her life. Cooke was struck once in the torso. According to Franklin, he exclaimed, "Lady, you shot me," before mounting a last charge at her. She said she beat him over his head with a broomstick before he finally fell, mortally wounded by the gunshot.
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. She called the police to request that officers go to the motel, telling them she believed a shooting had occurred.
A coroner's 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 had. Boyer had called from a telephone booth near the motel, telling them she had just escaped being kidnapped.
Boyer told the police that she had first met Cooke earlier that night and had spent the evening in his company. She said that after they left a local nightclub together, she had repeatedly requested that he take her home, but he instead took her against her will to the Hacienda Motel. She said 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 said that in her haste, she had also scooped up most of Cooke's clothing by mistake. She 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 in responding, so, fearing Cooke would soon be coming after her, she fled from the motel before the manager ever opened the door. She said she then put her clothing back on, hid Cooke's clothing, went to a telephone booth, and called the police.
Boyer's story is the only account of what happened between her and Cooke that night; however, her story 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 in order to rob him, rather than to escape an attempted rape. Cooke was reportedly carrying much more money at Martoni's than the $108 cash found at his death scene, and Boyer was arrested for prostitution in January 1965, though the charge was dismissed and she accrued no more notoriety.
However, questions about Boyer's role were beyond the scope of the inquest, the purpose of which was only to establish the circumstances of Franklin's role in the shooting. Boyer's leaving the motel room with almost all of Cooke's clothing, and the fact that tests showed Cooke was inebriated at the time, provided a plausible explanation to the inquest jurors for Cooke's bizarre behavior and state of dress. 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. 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 people have speculated that Cooke's manager, Allen Klein, might have had a role in his death. Klein owned Tracey, Ltd, which ultimately owned all rights to Cooke's recordings.
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 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. After Cooke's death, his widow, Barbara, married Bobby Womack. Cooke's daughter, Linda, later married Womack's brother, Cecil.
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 US$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.
- In 1986, Cooke was inducted as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- In 1987, Cooke was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
- On February 1, 1994, Cooke received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the music industry, located on 7051 Hollywood Boulevard.
- In 1999, Cooke was presented the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award by Larry Blackmon of funk super-group Cameo, and in 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him 16th on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".
- In 2008, Cooke was named the fourth "Greatest Singer of All Time" by Rolling Stone.
- In June 2011, the city of Chicago renamed a portion of East 36th Street near Cottage Grove Avenue as the honorary "Sam Cooke Way" to remember the singer near a corner where he hung out and sang as a teenager.
- In 2013 Cooke was inducted into the National Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, at Cleveland State University. The founder of the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame Museum, LaMont Robinson, said he was the greatest singer ever to sing.
- The Sam Cooke quote “A change is gonna come” is on a wall of the Contemplative Court, a space for reflection in the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture; the museum opened in 2016.
- Songs by Sam Cooke (1957)
- Encore (1958)
- Tribute to the Lady (1959)
- The Wonderful World of Sam Cooke (1960)
- Cooke's Tour (1960)
- Hits of the 50's (1960)
- Swing Low (1961)
- My Kind of Blues (1961)
- Twistin' the Night Away (1962)
- Mr. Soul (1963)
- Night Beat (1963)
- Ain't That Good News (1964)
- Sam Cooke at the Copa (1964)
- Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 (1985)
- Some sources identify the motel owner's last name as "Card," according to Guralnick
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- Guralnick 2005, pp. 619, 628.
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- Milicia, Joe (December 6, 2005). "Sam Cooke's story told from 'the inside out'—A thorough effort to give him his due". Archived from the original on November 5, 2012. Associated Press: "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."
- Greene, Erik (2006). Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story from His Family's Perspective. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-4122-0987-0.
- James, Gary, "Interview with Solomon Burke" (January 27, 1992), Classic Bands: "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."
- Guralnick 2005, pp. 642-643.
- Gordon, Ed (November 16, 2005). "'Dream Boogie': The Life and Death of Sam Cooke". National Public Radio. Interview with Peter Guralnick: "...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 a hundred 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."
- Hildebrand, Lee (April 10, 2007). "Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick tackles another music legend: Sam Cooke". San Francisco Bay Guardian.
"'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.'"
- Drozdowski, Ted (March 14–21, 2002). "Soul man, Sam Cooke's fulfilling late period". Boston Phoenix. Archived from the original on 2006-05-28. Retrieved 2006-05-19. "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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- Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick (2005) ISBN 0-316-37794-5
- Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story from His Family's Perspective by Erik Greene (2005) ISBN 1-4120-6498-8
- You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke by Daniel Wolff, S. R. Crain, Clifton White, and G. David Tenenbaum (1995) ISBN 0-688-12403-8
- One More River to Cross: The Redemption of Sam Cooke by B. G. Rhule (2012) ISBN 978-1-4675-2856-6
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- Rosco Gordon interview at the Wayback Machine (archived November 14, 2007)
- "Black Elvis" by The Village Voice
- "Sam Cooke". Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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