Saturday, 24 March 2012

The Life & Times Of Sam Cooke

A few weeks ago I finished reading an eye opening bio on Sam Cooke by Daniel Wolff with contributions from those who were around Sam during his life. The man who came out of his gospel and R&B background did the hard yards within the gospel group circuit, went pop and became known as inventor of what we now know as soul.

What surprised me so much about this insight was that from outside he comes across with a very clean image, and a very sweet song. Raised in the Church by his reverend father Charles Cook and mother Annie May near the Sunflower river in Mississippi you'd expect this may be the case but Cooke originally born Samuel Cook - the 'E' was added when he needed to record under a different name- was not as innocent as his records make out. As the book informs he spent 90 days in prison when 17 for trading illicit content, fathered a child at 21 and didn't pay support, was involved in a car accident, married and divorced whilst only 27 and was involved in several disputes over royalties. All this going on whilst America was in the midst of racial, political stir with Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers amongst others carrying forward the cause. Cooke himself became the popstar of the movement and actively started to promote black musicians via his own publishing company. He was friends with both Malcolm X and then Cassius Clay who he ate with and met with on a few occasions.

A good thing about this book is that it includes a whole half chapter on A Change Is Going to Come, perhaps his most famous hit. It wasn't released until shortly after his untimely death, shot in a motel room in suspicious circumstances. Cooke, at 34, was at the top of his career at that point and had recorded the record in response to Bob Dylan's protest song 'Blowin' In The Wind. On page 251 we read 'Blowin In The Wind had continued to bother Sam. "A white boy writing a song like that?"It was a challenge to Sam-as a black man and a songwriter'. Passing away at this young age Cooke left an incredible legacy which has stood the test of time.

A compelling read and recommended reading for any fan of Sam, soul or American black politics from the mid fifties into the early sixties.

There's also a Spotify playlist of the music of the era, and some of the songs mentioned in the book. Feel free to have a listen here:

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