He was back then dubbed the father of modern soul music. But to fans who loved his unmistakable voice and music, they didn’t care about labels. They just loved Sam Cooke.
When Sam Cooke decided to stray from his deep South roots and gospel music upbringing in 1957, he started something in the genre of popular music.
For he had a voice the likes of which few had previously heard. And when he coupled that voice with the style and personality introduced previously by other white performers, like Elvis Presley, the Mississippi native became one of music’s truly overnight sensations.
Born in January of 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, Cooke became a recognizable pillar in popular music, both for his records and for his courage as a black artist to seek for himself his own level of success . Sam Cooke was an innovator, one of the first black performers to found his own recording and publishing company.
A prolific writer, he hit the popular charts with an avalanche of best-sellers from his own genius, beginning with You Send Me, in 1957, which at the time set a record for the shortest amount of time needed to sell a million copies.
And from that point, he signed with RCA and released a series of romantic ballads and teen pop singles that catapulted him to a leadership role for record sales among pop artists – Twistin’ The Night Away, Chain Gang, Only Sixteen, Cupid, Bring It On Home To Me, and the ultimate hit…What A Wonderful World, recorded and released in 1960.
Unfortunately, his stardom was brief. Cooke was shot to death on December 11, 1964, by Bertha Franklin, the manager of a Los Angeles hotel, who claimed Cooke had threatened her life after she responded to a domestic violence call from a woman that Cooke was with in her hotel. In a subsequent murky investigation, the shooting was later deemed a case of justifable homocide and Franklin was never convicted.
Even as the lurid details of the case were becoming common knowledge, hundreds of thousands of fans turned out in the streets of Los Angeles and other cities to mourn the passing of Sam Cooke, a man whose popularity, and legacy, seemed able to transcend the scandal surrounding his death.
His funeral was a spectacle of music luminaries, at which the likes of Lou Rawls and Ray Charles performed in tribute. Sam Cooke…was just 33 years old when he died.
To this day nothing since has sounded like him. His music stands for all time…as one-of-a-kind.