Sam Cooke: Rolling Stones #3 of The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time (2023)

Sam Cooke 
Born January 22, 1931: Clarksdale, Mississippi, US.
Died December 11, 1964: Los Angeles, California
, US.
Origin: Chicago, Illinois, US.
Instruments: Vocals, piano, guitar
Years active 1951–1964

Sam Cooke's been called the King of Soul. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 16 in their 100 Greatest Artists of All Time issue. They also ranked him number 4 of their 100 Greatest Singers of All Time." In 2023, the publication numbered him 3 of The 200 Greatest Singers of All Time.

His string of hits includes "You Send Me," "A Change Is Gonna Come," "Wonderful World," and "Twistin' the Night Away."

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."

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Early Life

Born in Mississippi to the Cook family in 1931, Sam changed his last name to Cooke because he thought the extra "e" at the end was classier. Several of his siblings followed suit, as did Marvin Gaye. Cooke's father, a pastor, moved the family to Chicago during the Depression. 

There Sam and his siblings formed a gospel group, the Singing Children. Through the 1940s and early 1950s, Cooke sang in Christian harmony groups, including the Highway QCs and The Soul Stirrers. The Soul Stirrers were well known and respected on the church circuits.

He released his first pop single, "Lovable," in 1956 under the pseudonym "Dale Cooke" to avoid angering his religious fans. It didn't work. Cooke's unique vocal style gave him away. The Soul Stirrers and their record label, Specialty, dropped him. His secular record didn't chart. 

Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke

In 1957, Cooke released his best-known song, "You Send Me." It spent three weeks at the number 1 spot on the Billboard pop chart and was named one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. 

You Send Me

"You Send Me" was written by Sam Cooke's brother, Charles "LC" Cooke. The song ranked number 115 in Rolling Stone magazine's 2004 list of the "500 Greatest Songs of All Time." In  that article, Art Garfunkel said about Cooke's hit,  

"I must have sung 'You Send Me' to myself walking up and down stairwells at least a thousand times. It was on the charts right when I had my first little success with Paul Simon as Tom and Jerry. I was just a kid, calling on radio stations for promotional purposes, and all I heard was 'You Send Me.' Sam was great to sing along with. He was my hero." 

You Send Me
Sam Cooke


Wonderful World

Sam Cooke's song "Wonderful World" was released on April 14, 1960. Initially written by Lou Alder and Herb Alpert, Cooke added the lyrics. The trio credited the songwriting under the pseudonym "Barbara Campbell."  

"Wonderful World" became Cooke's best-performing single since his first hit, "You Send Me." It hit number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and two on the magazine's Hot R&B Sides chart. 

Billboard reviewed the single upon its release, giving it four stars. The song was 382 in Rolling Stone magazine's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

What a Wonderful World
Sam Cooke


A Change is Gonna Come

Cooke's infant son drowned in a swimming pool in 1963. He started writing more introspective songs and took an interest in black history and politics. When Cooke heard Bob Dylan's song, "Blowin' In The Wind," he determined to write something similar.  

Some of the lyrics were inspired by an incident where Cooke and some of his friends were arrested for disturbing the peace after they were denied rooms at a motel in Shreveport, Louisiana because they were black. 

The third verse was edited out when the song was published as a single. The line went, "I go to the movie, and I g,o downtown somebody,y keeps telling me don't hang around." Apparently,  it spoke too boldly about segregation. It was released in February 1964, a few months after Cooke died. 

In 2007, the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, with the National Recording Registry deeming the song "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.

It's on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock. In 2004, it was listed at number 12 in the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

A Change is Gonna Come
Sam Cooke


Death

Hacienda Motel
\
Sam Cooke was killed at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964, at the Hacienda Motel, in Los Angeles, California. The motel's manager, Bertha Franklin, claimed she shot him in self-defense. The official police record states Cooke checked into the motel earlier that evening. 

In the early morning hours, Cooke banged on the door of the manager's office, shouting, "Where's the girl?" Franklin answered there was no one with her in the office. Then Cooke forced his way in, naked except for one shoe and a sports jacket. 

Bertha Franklin

He grabbed her and demanded she tells him the other 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. Fearing for her life, she fired at Cooke in self-defense.  

Cooke was struck once in the torso. According to Franklin, he exclaimed, "Lady, you shot me" before charging at her. She beat him with a broomstick before he finally fell, mortally wounded by the gunshot.

Elisa Boyer

The woman in Cooke's motel room was Elisa Boyer. She also called the police from a telephone booth near the motel that night. According to Boyer, she met Cooke earlier and spent time with him. They left a local nightclub together, and she asked him to take her home. 

Instead, against her will, he took her to the Hacienda Motel. Once they entered his motel room, Cooke forced her onto the bed and stripped her to her panties. He was groping her, and she believed he meant to rape her. 

The coroner brings out Sam Cooke's body.

When he went to the bathroom, she quickly grabbed her clothes and ran. She said that in haste, she had also scooped up most of Cooke's clothing by mistake. First, she ran to the manager's office and knocked on the door. 

When no one answered, she fled from the motel, put her clothes on, hid Cooke's clothing, and called the police from a telephone booth. Both Boyer and Franklin later passed polygraph tests. The coroner's jury accepted Franklin's explanation and returned a verdict of justifiable homicide.

Twistin' the Night Away
Sam Cooke

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