Sam Cooke PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, 18 October 2008 08:43

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Sam Cooke

Born: January 22, 1931 (1931-01-22, Clarksdale, Mississippi

Died: December 11, 1964. Los Angeles, Hacienda Motel.

Age: 33

Cause of death: Shot by the (white) manageress of the Motel he was staying in.

Notable bcaus: Wrote and sang  'A change is gonna come.' Died in a tragic way.

Sam Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He added an "e" onto the end of his name because he thought it added a touch of class. He was one of seven children of Annie Mae and the Reverend Charles Cook, a Baptist minister. The family moved to Chicago in 1933.

Cooke began his musical career as a member of a quartet with his siblings, The Singing Children, and, as a teenager, he was a member of the Highway QCs, a gospel group. In 1950, at the age of 19, he joined The Soul Stirrers and achieved significant success and fame within the gospel community.

His first pop single, "Lovable" (1956), was released under the alias of "Dale Cooke" in order to not alienate his gospel fan base; there was a considerable taboo against gospel singers performing secular music. However, the alias failed to hide Cooke's unique and distinctive vocals. No one was fooled. 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 signed with Keen Records. His first release was "You Send Me", the B-side of his first Keen single (the A-side was a reworking of George Gershwin's "Summertime") which spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart. The song also had massive mainstream success, spending three weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart.

Sam Cooke in studio, 1963
Sam Cooke in studio, 1963

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, Bobby Womack, and Johnnie Taylor. Cooke then created a publishing imprint and management firm, then left Keen to sign with RCA Victor. One of his first RCA singles was the hit "Chain Gang." It reached #2 on the Billboard pop chart. This was followed by more hits, including "Sad Mood", "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. In spite of this, 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.

Cooke died at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964 in Los Angeles, California. He was shot to death by Bertha Franklin, manager of the Hacienda Motel in South Los Angeles, who claimed that he had threatened her, and that she killed him in self-defense. The shooting was ultimately ruled to be a justifiable homicide, though there have been arguments that crucial details did not come out in court, or were buried afterward. Cooke was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, California.

Some posthumous releases followed, many of which became hits, including "A Change Is Gonna Come", an early protest song which is generally regarded as his greatest composition. After Cooke's death, his widow, Barbara, married Bobby Womack. Cooke's daughter, Linda, later married Bobby's brother, Cecil.

The details of the case involving Cooke's death are still in dispute. The official police record states that Cooke was shot dead by Bertha Franklin, the manager of the Hacienda Motel, where Cooke had checked in earlier that evening. Franklin claimed that Cooke had broken into the manager's office/apartment in a rage, wearing nothing but a shoe and a sports coat (with nothing beneath it) demanding to know the whereabouts of a woman who had accompanied him to the motel. Franklin said that 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 her gun. She said that she then fired at Cooke in self-defense because she feared for her life. According to Franklin, Cooke exclaimed, "Lady, you shot me", before finally falling, mortally wounded.

According to Franklin and to the motel's owner, Evelyn Carr, they had been on the phone together at the time of the incident. Thus, Carr claimed to have overheard Cooke's intrusion and the ensuing conflict and gunshots. Carr called the police to request that they go to the motel, informing them that she believed a shooting had occurred.http://www.bbc.co.uk/music/static/i/content/souldeep/gallery/11.jpg

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 did. Boyer had called the police from a phone booth near the motel, telling them she had just escaped from being kidnapped.

Boyer told the police that she had first met Cooke earlier that night and had spent the evening in his company. She claimed that after they left a local nightclub together, she had repeatedly requested that he take her home, but that he instead took her against her will to the Hacienda Motel. She claimed 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 claimed that in her haste, she had also scooped up most of Cooke's clothing by mistake. She said that 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 the motel altogether before the manager ever opened the door. She claimed she then put her own clothing back on, stashed Cooke's clothing away and went to the phone booth from which she called police.

Boyer's story is the only account of what happened between the two that night. However, her story has long been called into question. Because of inconsistencies between her version of events and details reported by other witnesses as well as circumstantial evidence (e.g., cash that Cooke was reportedly carrying was never recovered, and Boyer was soon after arrested for prostitution), many people feel it is more likely that Boyer went willingly to the motel with Cooke and then slipped out of the room with Cooke's clothing in order to rob him rather than to escape an attempted rape.

Ultimately, such questions were beyond the scope of the inquest, whose purpose was simply to establish the circumstances of Franklin's role in the shooting, not to determine exactly what had happened between Cooke and Boyer preceding that. Boyer's leaving the motel room with almost all of Cooke's clothing, regardless of exactly why she did so, combined with the fact that tests showed Cooke was inebriated at the time, seemed to provide a plausible explanation for Cooke's bizarre behavior and state of dress, as reported by Franklin and Carr. This explanation, together with the fact that Carr, from what she said she had overheard, corroborated Franklin's version of events, was enough to convince the coroner's jury to accept Franklin's explanation that it was a case of justifiable homicide. With that verdict, authorities officially closed the case on Cooke's death.

However, some of Cooke's family and supporters have rejected not only Boyer's version of events but also Franklin's and Carr's. They believe that there was a conspiracy to murder Cooke and that the murder took place in some manner entirely different from Franklin, Boyer, and Carr's official accounts. Nevertheless, no solid, reviewable evidence supporting a conspiracy theory has been presented to date.

My brother was first class all the way. He would not check into a $3-a-night motel; that wasn't his style.

— Agnes Cooke-Hoskins, sister of Sam Cooke, attending the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 2005 tribute to Cooke.

In her autobiography, Rage to Survive, singer Etta James claimed that she viewed Cooke's body in the funeral home and that the injuries she observed were well beyond what could be explained by the official account of Franklin alone having fought with Cooke. James described Cooke as having been so badly beaten that his head was nearly separated from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed, and his nose was mangled.

  • Shortly following his passing, Motown Records released We Remember Sam Cooke, a collection of Cooke covers recorded by The Supremes.
  • In 1986, Cooke was inducted as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • In 1999, Cooke was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2004 Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #16 on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".
  • In 2006, Cooke's great nephew Erik Greene, authored the book Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family's Perspective. Our Uncle Sam chronicles Cooke's life, music, and controversial death.

 

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Editorial Review: A sparkling 21-track collection of Sam Cooke favorites! Includes You Send Me; (I Love You) for Sentimental Reasons; Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha; Only Sixteen; Wonderful World; Chain Gang; Cupid; Twistin' the Night Away; Having a Party; Bring It on Home to Me, and more.


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Editorial Review: In 1964, when this concert at New York City's legendary Copacabana night club was recorded, Sam Cooke was at the top of his game, having charted numerous times with his unique blend of pop and soul. The success doesn't seem to have gone to his head, though: he sounds relaxed and conversational throughout this intimate performance. Accompanied by a band that includes Bobby Womack on guitar, Cooke brings his R&B tendencies further to the fore than on his immaculately produced studio work. He moves deftly through his own hits, like "You Send Me" and "Twistin' The Night Away," but it's on the folk songs "If I Had A Hammer" and "Blowin' In The Wind" that he really stretches out, proving himself a gifted interpreter unbound by stylistic constrictions. At The Copa is an essential part of the Cooke canon.


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Last Updated on Wednesday, 30 June 2010 15:37
 

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