Comprehensive musicology encompassing all genres and styles

The Musical Life of Sam Cooke‍

Sam Cooke’s musical life is remarkable. It’s a story of rags to riches and back again, a man who reinvented himself as an artist and went on to become one of the most influential figures in 20th-century music. In his short life, Sam Cooke wrote and recorded some of the greatest songs of all time with brilliant musicians, many who would go on to achieve their acclaim. Samuel Cook also known as ‘The Soulful Voice’ was born on January 22nd 1931 in Clarksville, Tennessee. His mother left him when he was just 7 years old, so he moved around often with his uncle, at one point living in New York City where his uncle had found him work as a newsboy. He then relocated to Washington D.C., before finally moving back to Tennessee at age 14 where he began working at local factories for a dollar per hour. Sam first took up singing after listening to the radio one day while working on the assembly line at a local manufacturing company called TN Candy Company (later renamed General Foods Corporation). On that fateful day, Sam heard Frankie Laine singing “Don’t Fence Me In” which inspired Sam to take up singing more seriously. Sam had always loved gospel music; both his parents were members of The Church of God in Christ (CoGIC) and he would often sing spirituals at home with them.

Moving to Chicago and Finding His Voice

Sam moved to Chicago in 1951 to pursue a music career, hoping to achieve his dreams of becoming a gospel singer. Unfortunately, record companies wanted him to sing blues or pop music, genres that he wasn’t comfortable with. This posed a problem for Sam, as he didn’t want to sing music that wasn’t true to himself. He famously said, “It’s not in me. It’s not me. I’m not an entertainer. I’m not a pop singer. I’m a gospel singer.” It was this determination to be true to himself, as well as his warm, emotional falsetto that would later make him a legend.

The Soul Stirrers

The Soul Stirrers were a gospel group formed in the 1930s by Dr. William “W.W.” Jordan. Jordan, a man who had come from a sharecropper’s background, was the original owner of the first Gospel radio station in the country; WDAS in Philadelphia. He saw gospel music as a way to bring black and white people together. The band had many members throughout the years, but the lineup while Sam was a member consisted of Sam on lead vocals, Jasper Stokes on organ, James Thomas on drums, and Herbert W. “Toby” Wright on bass. The band traveled around the country, performing Sam’s favorite gospel songs, including “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “I’ll Overcome Someday”, and “His Eye is on the Sparrow”. They also covered many songs written by Dr. Jordan including “Walking in the Light”, “The Wilderness”, and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”. One of Sam’s most recognizable gospel songs would come from his time with The Soul Stirrers: “Cup of Coffee”.

Sam Cooke as a solo artist

After five years with The Soul Stirrers and a stellar gospel career, Sam decided to break off on his own. He released his first solo album “Sam Cooke’s Best” in 1957 and it was during this period that Sam wrote “You Send Me”, which later became his first pop hit, reaching #13 on the Billboard charts. This was a landmark moment in Sam’s career, as he proved that he could write songs in different genres. From then on, he began writing and recording more pop, R&B, and jazz songs and albums. Among his most popular hits as a solo artist were “Wonderful World”, “Bring It on Home to Me”, “ Only Sixteen”, “Chain Gang”, and “Cupid”. Some of the songs on this album have been covered by many artists such as “Bring it on Home to Me” (covered by Rolling Stones), “You Send Me” (covered by many artists including the Beatles), “Chain Gang” (covered by The Pretenders), and “Only Sixteen” (covered by Stevie Wonder).

The peak of Sam’s Career: Cookemania!

Sam’s career was at its peak in the early 1960s. He was a successful singer and songwriter, he had been named a ‘Soul Brother No 1’, and he had also become a successful businessman, owning a chain of soul food restaurants in Los Angeles known as The Soul Food Kitchen. He had become friends with presidents and celebrities and was known for his charming manner. He was seen as a role model for black people, and his concerts were attended by people from all backgrounds.

Tragedy strikes: death of Sam Cooke

It was during the “Tour of the South” that tragedy struck. On December 15th, 1964, Sam was in the Hotel Wildwood in downtown Los Angeles when a fight broke out between some African American members of his entourage and the hotel staff. Sam intervened, but he was shot by an African-American hotel employee who was trying to break up the fight. He was rushed to the hospital and underwent surgery, but sadly died a few hours later. His death was one of the most shocking events in the history of popular music, with newspapers and magazines across the world hailing him as the “Soul Brother No 1”.

Sam Cooke Greatest Hits Full Album 70s