Writer Paul Culshaw continues his exploration of the birth of Soul music.

We now move on to, not just the birth of Soul vocalisation but of Soul music itself too, the most moving and beautiful Soul music. The birth of this music happened in stages and many artists were involved, but Sam Cooke truly was the finished article.

Soul music is the mixing of Gospel with Rhythm ‘n’ Blues and Sam Cooke came directly from Gospel music. He was born in Clarkdale in Mississippi as one of eight kids with a Daddy who was a Baptist minister.

Sam began his singing career singing Gospel with his siblings in a group called The Singing Children but was soon asked to join the Highway Q.C’s as lead vocalist. By 1950 Sam sang lead vocals again with the landmark Gospel vocal group The Soul Stirrers. Under Sam’s leadership the Soul Stirrers got signed to Specialty Records and put out hits such as ‘Peace in the Valley’, ‘How Far Am I From Canaan’, ‘Jesus Paid the Dept’, ‘One More River’ and loads more gospel hits.

Sam’s first solo hit came in 1956 with ‘Lovable’ which was released under the alias of Dale Cooke. Gospel performers simply did not sing non-religious music but using an alias fooled no one for Sam Cooke’s voice was, well precious and beautiful as it was.

In 1957 Sam appeared on ABC’s The Guy Mitchell Show and then signed to Keen Records where he released ‘You Send M’e with a B side of George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’. ‘You Send Me’ reached number 1 in December of ‘57 with sales estimated at 1.5 million copies. Sam married his high school sweetheart, Barbara Campbell in 1959, and they had three children.

Sam Cooke went on to have 29 Top 40 hits from 1957 til 1964, hits such as ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, ‘Cupid’, ‘Chain Gang’, ‘Wonderful World’, and ‘Twistin’ the Night Away’, all of which were stunning and vital recordings and most of which are pure Fifties Soul music.

By the early Sixties Sam’s marriage was in trouble, due to extramarital affairs on both sides, when in June 1963 a most terrible thing happened, his youngest son, Vincent, drowned in the family’s front yard pool, he was only 18 months old. Sam was away on the day. With their marriage already in trouble, the distance between Sam and his wife deepened as Sam blamed Barbara for their son’s death. Cooke retreated into a deep depression and asked that no one wear black to the child’s funeral. He found his escape in out-of-town performances, which he agreed to at every opportunity.

Cooke died at the age of thirty-three on December 11, 1964, at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California via gunshot wound to the torso. The motel’s manager said that she shot Cooke in self-defense after he broke into her office residence and attacked her. However, the details of the case involving Cooke’s death are still in dispute.

Read Part 1 and Part 2 of Paul’s journey into Soul.

One Response

  1. themusicologist

    Mr Soul. the Greatest Soul vocalist yet to record.
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