- On Air
- Music News
- Calendar of Events
- Support WERS
- About WERS
Sam Cooke is an American R&B, Gospel, Soul singer and songwriter. Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on January 22, 1931, he later added on the “e” to his last name for an unknown reason. His parents, Annie Mae and Reverend Charles Cook, had eight other children as well. His family moved to Chicago in 1933, and there, Cooke attended Wendell Phillips Academy High School. Beginning his career at the age of nine, by collaborating with his siblings and creating the group The Singing Children, he eventually become the lead singer of Highway QC’s at the age of fourteen. His passion was very clear at such an early age. In 1950, Cooke was a part of another gospel group, The Soul Stirrers, but decided to replace himself with R.H Harris, a tenor gospel singer, as the lead singer. Under Cooke’s leadership, they signed with Specialty Records and released hits such as “Peace in the Valley”, “How Far Am I From Canaan”, and “One More River”. Cooke was acknowledged for bringing much attention to the group, but he had other dreams that he wanted to achieve.
In 1956, Cooke released his first pop solo single, “Lovable”, a remake of the gospel song “Wonderful”. Cooke decided to release the song under a different name (Dale Cook) to not neglect his gospel fans. Even though his voice was so distinct and did not fool his fans, Art Rupe head of Specialty Records told Cooke that it was ok to be a diverse artist, but was unhappy that Cooke wanted to push himself more into the pop direction, causing Cooke to eventually leave the label.
Also in 1956, Cooke signed to Keen Records and released “You Send Me”; it spent six weeks as number one on the Billboard R&B chart and also had worldwide mainstream success. In 1961, Cooke started his own record label, SAR Records, with J.W. Alexander and Roy Crain. It including artists such as The Simms Twins, Bobby Womack, and Johnnie Taylor. Cooke left Keen and signed with RCA Victor, then releasing “Chain Gang”.
In 1963, Cooke’s son Vincent wandered away from his mother and drowned in their front pool, at the age of 18 months. Cooke was away from home and with a rocky marriage already Cooke and his wife Barbara became even more distant. Blaming her for the death of their son, he fell into a great depression and found his escape in touring and being in the studio constantly.
On December 11, 1964, tragedy struck; Cooke was murdered at the age of thirty-three at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles. Bertha Franklin was the hotel manager and claimed that she shot and killed Cooke as self-defense. She claimed that Cooke broke into her office in a rage wearing nothing but a shoe and sports coat, wondering where a woman who had accompanied him to his room earlier was. Franklin told him she was not here, grabbing her up and causing a psychical fight… ending in a gun shot wound to the torso and her beating him on the head with a broomstick. Cooke was dead on the scene. Cooke’s life ended too soon, but his music will always remain. His soul and distinct voice will always be around for many artists today, who look up to him and his career as one of the pioneers of Gospel and Soul music.
If you liked this, check out:
Where Are They Now: Keith Sweat