Sam Cooke was the most important soul singer in history, along with being the inventor of soul music, African American singer Sam Cooke was the most popular and beloved performer in both the black and white communities during his times. He was among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of the music business, and founded both a record label and a publishing company.
Sam Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He was one of eight children of Charles Cook Sr., a Baptist minister. When Sam sang as a little boy in church, everyone made note that his voice had "something special". Singing in a group with three of his siblings called the Singing Children, Sam Cooke eenjoyed singing gospel music while listening to popular music on the radio.
He sang in church and in local gospel choirs until a gospel group called the Highway Q.C.'s asked him to sing with them. This led Cooke to joining the "Soul Stirrers", which was a top gospel group in the country. By the time he reached 20, Sam's voice was a finely honed instrument and he was noted for bringing the spirit up in churchgoers. Cooke sang with the group for six years, traveling back and forth across the country and gaining a wealth of knowledge regarding how black people were treated. His refusal to sing at a segregated concert led to what many have described as one of the first real efforts in civil disobedience and helped usher in the new Civil Rights Movement.
After several gospel albums, Sam decided it was time to cross over from gospel to record soul and rhythm & blues., despite the fact that almost everyone advised him against it. His hypnotically smooth voice, not to mention his finely chiseled good looks, brought him almost instant success. His first single released in 1957 was "You Send Me", which sold over a million copies and made Sam an "overnight success" in the business. He was on his way to becoming the biggest voice on the radio. Record producers vied to sign him to a contract.
In 1959, Cooke married his childhood sweetheart Barbara. They had three children over the next four years. Cooke moved his family into a beautiful Hollywood Hills home, he also purchased a Ferrari. Happiness was short-lived, Cooke's eighteen month son Vincent drowned in the family pool. The marriage became strained and the Cooke's separated.
In 1960 he became the first major black artist to sign with RCA Records. Sam was not happy with the deal and when the time was right decided to start KAGS Music, his own publishing company, keeping control over his music. Cooke also started his own record company (SAR/Derby) to keep control of his money. Cooke immersed himself in his business ventures, he made history by becoming the first African-American who fought for and received his songwriting and publishing rights.
Cooke was keenly aware of the music around him, and was particularly entranced by Bob Dylan's song "Blowin' in the Wind," its treatment of the plight of black Americans and other politically oppressed minorities, and its success in the hands of Peter, Paul & Mary. Sam Cooke was convinced that the time was right for songs that dealt with more than twisting the night away.
The result was "A Change Is Gonna Come," perhaps the greatest song to come out of the civil rights struggle, and one that seemed to close and seal the gap between the two directions of Cooke's career, from gospel to pop. Arguably his greatest and his most important song, it was an artistic apotheosis for Cooke. During this same period, he had also devised a newer, more advanced dance-oriented soul sound in the form of the song "Shake." These two recordings heralded a new era for Cooke and a new phase of his career, with seemingly the whole world open to him. By 1964, Cooke was on top of the world professionally, his greatest hits album stayed on the charts nine months and 29 of his songs had become Top 40 hits. Cooke was extremely wealthy due to his career and numerous business interests.
On Dec. 11, 1964 Sam Cooke was murdered and his death is still surrounded by mystery and speculation. While in Los Angeles, Cooke became involved in an altercation at a seedy motel, with a woman guest and the night manager, and was shot to death while allegedly trying to attack the manager. The case is still shrouded in doubt and mystery, and was never investigated the way the murder of a star of his stature would be today. Cooke's death shocked the black community and reverberated far beyond.
While all the facts are still sketchy many believe Sam Cooke was set up and the murder covered up. That evening, Cooke left a popular night club with a beautiful Euro Asian woman named Lisa Boyer. According to Boyer, Cooke drove her to a seedy motel in South Central and tried to rape her. Boyer grabbed her clothes, along with some of Cooke's and ran out of the room. When she reached the manager's office, Cooke stormed in behind her. The motel manager Bertha Franklin was frightened by Cooke's irrational behavior (and lack of clothing), she would pull out a gun and shoot him four times, and also hit him on the head with a broom handle. This was the official story fed to the media outlets around the world.
After a coroner's inquest came back with a verdict of justifiable homicide. Bertha Franklin and Lisa Boyer were free. Although Cooke was very wealthy and carried large amounts of cash, no money was recovered from the site. The Cooke family hired an private investigator who uncovered the following facts:
Cooke had dated Lisa Boyer three weeks prior to his murder despite the fact that numerous people warned him about her colorful past which included prostitution. If Cooke was dating her, why would he try to rape her? Lisa Boyer would be arrested for prostitution one month after Cooke's death and in 1979 she would be found guilty of second degree murder in the shooting death of her boyfriend.
Singer Etta James revealed in her book "Rage To Survive," that Cooke was so badly beaten that his head was decapitated from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed, his nose was smashed and he had a two inch bump on his head. These injuries were never explained and a woman could not inflict these type of injuries.