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Sam Cooke :: My Favorite Artists

I was nineteen the first time I really listened to Sam Cooke. I’m sure his music had been in my life before then, but in more of a musical adjacency, than in my conscious music reality. I have vague memories of singing the lyrics “don’t know much about history” as a little girl, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who sang the song. It was at nineteen, though, that I got my first record store job and started to become exposed to a variety of people’s taste in music, not just the music I grew up with, and had sought out (so far) on my own. The experience was much like going to a foreign country, or a new city, or spending the night at a friend’s house for the first time in that it expands your horizons, and makes the world suddenly seem so much bigger. I was surprised at some of the music I fell for. Music that before that had been in categories, or genres, that I didn’t associate myself with, and I was digging the new discoveries, and the different sides in myself I was discovering, too.

Sam Cooke’s Greatest Hits was an album that one of the morning shift supervisor’s used to play. It was a departure from her usual heavy metal leanings, and was definitely not a sound, or style, I would have ever guessed she’d enjoy, but she did, at least in her mornings. There was something so warm about his voice, so smooth and soothing, and so full of hope. Even on days when my heart hurt from some unrequited love or break-up, or when I was nursing an ugly hangover, or mornings when things just seemed bleak as some mornings can, Sam’s music would be there to lift me up and make me think that this was a “wonderful world” I was living in.

That same year I met a boy would become many “firsts” in my life. We went to a wedding from someone in his family, a cousin or something, and they played Bring it On Home to Me and we danced to it together. It was one of those perfect moments that never leaves you completely, one I will remember when I’m old and gray(er). It was one of my favorite moments of that boy and I, if not the favorite.

I’ve never lost my love for Sam Cooke’s music, and it always, without fail, makes me feel better. His music still carries so much hope to me

Photo of Sam Cooke

Samuel “Sam” Cooke (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964) was an American recording artist and singer-songwriter, generally considered among the greatest of all time. Influential as both a singer and composer, he is commonly known as the King of Soul for his distinctive vocals and importance within popular music. His pioneering contributions to soul music contributed to the rise of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Billy Preston and popularized the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown.

Sam Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, plus three more posthumously. Major hits like You Send Me, A Change Is Gonna Come, Cupid, Chain Gang, Wonderful World, and Twistin’ the Night Away are some of his most popular songs. Cooke was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the Civil Rights Movement.

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On December 11, 1964, at the age of 33, Cooke was fatally shot by Bertha Franklin, the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California. After an inquest, the courts ruled Cooke’s death to be a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been consistently called into question by Cooke’s family and his wide circle of friends and acquaintances.

Cooke was born “Cook” in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later added an “e” onto the end of his name, though the reason for this is disputed. He was one of eight children of the Rev. Charles Cook, a Baptist minister, and his wife, Annie Mae.

He had a brother, L.C., who some years later would become a member of the doo-wop band Johnny Keyes and the Magnificents.

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His family moved to Chicago in 1933. Cooke attended Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, the same school that Nat “King” Cole had attended a few years earlier. Sam Cooke began his career with his siblings in a group called The Singing Children when he was 9. He first became known as lead singer with the Highway QC’s as a teenager joining at the age of 14. During this time, Cooke befriended fellow gospel singer and neighbor Lou Rawls, who sang in a rival gospel group.

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My Top 10 Favorite Sam Cooke Songs:

1. A Change is Gonna Come

“It’s been a long,
a long time coming,
but I know a change gonna come.”

2. Bring it On Home to Me 

“If you ever,
change your mind,
about leaving,
leaving me behind,
Oh-oh,
bring it to me,
bring your sweet loving,
bring it on home to me.”

3. You Send Me (live)

“You thrill me.
I know you, you, you thrill me.
Darling you, you, you, you thrill me,
honest you do.”

4. You Were Made for Me

“As sure as there are stars above,
I know I know you were made for me,
you were made for me.”

5. I’ll Come Running Back to You

“I try to forget,
have no regrets,
this love of ours could always start anew.
Just call my name,
I know I’m not ashamed –
I’ll come running back to you.”

6. Wonderful World

“But I do know that I love you,
and I know that if you love me, too,
what a wonderful world this would be.”

7. Chain Gang

“All day long they’re singing…”

8. Cupid

“So, Cupid, draw back your bow,
and let your arrow go,
straight to my lover’s heart for me.”

9. Nothing Can Change This Love

If I go,
a million miles away,
I’d write a letter,
each and everyday,
‘Cause honey nothing,
nothing can ever change this love I have for you.”

10. The Coffee Song (They’ve Got an Awful Lot of Coffee in Brazil)

“Way down among the Brazilians,
coffee beans grow by the billions,
so they’ve got to find those extra cups to fill.”

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