Earlier this week, I wrote an essay for The Wall Street Journal
) on the life and legacy of Sam Cooke 50 years after his shooting death in Los Angeles
on December 11, 1964. Though remembered mostly for his hits, Cooke has been largely forgotten for many of his other accomplishments. In a nutshell...
Cooke had 43 hits on Billboard's pop chart over 10 years (1957-66), including several two years after his death.
Seventeen of those hits were in the top 20 of Billboard's pop chart.
Cooke wrote or co-wrote many of his hit songs.
Cooke was able to maximize his royalties by co-founding a music publishing company.
Cooke also started two record labels—SAR and Derby.
At a time when most R&B artists were depending on blues and novelty numbers, Cooke was the first to parlay romantic soul into a new pop form.
Unlike many other pop artists of the period like Nat King Cole and Sammy Davis Jr., Cooke was a product of successful Chicago gospel groups, not jazz clubs.
By recording his own songs, controlling the rights and emphasizing a polished, sensual sound in the late 1950s and early '60s, Cooke paved the way for Motown and dozens of black male soul singers looking to compete on the pop charts. These included Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Otis Redding and Solomon Burke—and continued with dozens more, such as Donny Hathaway, Luther Vandross and Pharrell Williams.
There also are plenty of misconceptions about Cooke's death (see my essay). Someone earlier in the week wrote in saying he was under the impression that Cooke resented singing pop songs (not true). Someone else thought that Cooke was compelled to avoid moving around too much on stage (false; Cooke actually wasn't much of a dancer). And several readers sent emails insisting that his death was the result of a mob hit (hard to imagine, given the series of events that took place in those early morning hours and where at the Hacienda Motel Cooke was shot).
One of Cooke's finest achievements, and often overlooked) was his A Change Is Gonna Come
, which was inspired by Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind.
It would become a civil rights anthem when issued posthumously...
For me, Cooke's socially conscious song is matched only by Walter Earl Brown's If I Can Dream
and Gaye's What's Going On