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February is African American Heritage Month and WERS AT NIGHT is honoring one artist or one song every day this month that helped contribute to social consciousness, political responsibility, or civil rights. At WERS, we believe that these songs are always bigger than just entertainment; music can be used to drive a movement or even motivate a nation.
In 1964 America was blindsided by Sam Cooke’s prevailing song, “A Change is Gonna Come” a ballad so powerful that it became the anthem for the American Civil Rights Movement. Sam Cooke wrote “A Change is Gonna Come” in 1963 after listening to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Cooke was shocked that someone who was not black, who was not suffering from any racial oppression, could write a song that defined the adversities of racism in America so flawlessly. Cooke manifested his own ballad about African American prejudices; he gave depth to the song by including his personal hardships with racism and depression.
What people have to understand about Sam Cooke’s career was that he was a black artist who was commercially successful mainly with the white demographic. Cooke was terrified of releasing “A Change is Gonna Come” because he did not want to lose his fan base; however, he felt his feelings of the discrimination in America had to be addressed. “A Change is Gonna Come” was recorded on December 21, 1963 at RCA Studios in Los Angeles, California. The song was released in February of 1964, and many people surprisingly overlooked it. Beatlemania had grabbed America’s attention, so Cooke’s “little song that could” had to wait for its fame.
Sam Cooke was killed on December 11, 1964. After his death the song finally took off, and became the “anthem for the Civil Rights Movement.” Sam Cooke could no longer be regarded as this light-hearted singer, for he is a legend in the Black community as the voice of hope in the depression.