Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Sam Cook, 22 Jan. '31, Chicago; d 10--11 Dec. '64) Soul singer; enormously popular with both black and white audiences and a profound infl. on subsequent pop. Sang gospel music from age nine, with siblings as the Singing Children, later with the Highway QCs; then replaced retiring lead tenor Robert (R. H.) Harris in the Soul Stirrers '50: the group was an innovative one, allowing the lead tenor to shine and performing much contemporary material; it recorded for Specialty from '50 and Cooke acquired young female fans. In '56 Bumps Blackwell began recording him on secular songs as Dale Cook (the 'e' was added later), several ballads were released and Blackwell added white female backup singers to sweeten the style further on 'You Send Me'; label boss Art Rupe did not approve, fearing backlash from gospel fans; Blackwell and Cooke were released from their contracts and took masters in lieu of back royalties to Bob Keene's Keen label: 'You Send Me' became one of the decade's biggest hits, no. 1 on both pop and R&B charts. His gospel feeling and uncanny control over pitch, timbre and melisma (the direction of the vocally improvised melody) were entirely new in pop, and led to 29 Top 40 hits '57--65. He formed his own Sar label, released gospel- flavoured R&B hits (giving Bobby Womack his start in the Valentinos); he took his own act to RCA '60; Allen Klein became his manager '62 and negotiated a new contract which gave him more control over his material than most artists had, let alone black ones. Blackwell may have seen him as a new Nat Cole, but RCA gave him weak material and slushy arrangements prod. by Hugo (Peretti) and Luigi (Creatore); his talent won out and many good records were made. 'Bring It On Home To Me' featured Lou Rawls as second voice; 'Little Red Rooster' had Ray Charles on piano and Billy Preston on organ. Ten LPs charted '57--65 incl. Sam Cooke At The Copa '64, recorded live; one account says that after appearing at the famous Copacabana nightclub in top hat and with a cane, he turned his back on white clubs: in any case his performances in black clubs, for people who knew who he was and where he was from, were different. His own song 'A Change Is Gonna Come' reached the top ten '65 after he had been shot to death by a woman managing a motel; he may have taken a young woman to his room who then claimed that he forced her to take her clothes off; Klein believes that she may have intended to rob him. In any case USA's obsession with hand guns claimed another victim. An inquest ruled justifiable homicide but Klein did his own investigation and planned a film of Cooke's life. He also ended up controlling Cooke's recordings; 'Wonderful World' '60 (no. 12 USA; no. 27 UK), was used in a TV advert for bluejeans in UK '85, reissued and charted higher than the first time. Whether or not Cooke ever wore bluejeans, a retrospective listen to the architect of soul music began with Feel It! Live At The Harlem Square Club '85 on RCA, recorded '63 in a Miami club as black audiences knew him, his voice soaring to be free. Compilations with the Soul Stirrers on Ace and Specialty; Two Sides Of Sam Cooke on Specialty is half gospel and half pop; others on RCA and other labels.