- Cooke, Sam
▪ American singerIntroductionbyname of Samuel Cookborn Jan. 22, 1931, Clarksdale, Miss., U.S.died Dec. 11, 1964, Los Angeles, Calif.American singer, songwriter, producer, and entrepreneur. Cooke is a major figure in the history of popular music and, along with Ray Charles (Charles, Ray), one of the most influential black vocalists of the post-World War II period. If Charles represents raw soul (soul music), Cooke symbolizes sweet soul. To his many celebrated disciples—Smokey Robinson (Robinson, Smokey, and the Miracles), James Taylor (Taylor, James), and Michael Jackson (Jackson, Michael) among them—he is viewed as an icon of unrivaled stature.Cooke's career came in two phases. As a member of the groundbreaking Soul Stirrers (Soul Stirrers, the), a premier gospel (gospel music) group of the 1950s, he electrified the African-American church community nationwide with a light, lilting vocal style that soared rather than thundered. “Nearer to Thee” (1955), “Touch the Hem of His Garment” (1956), and “Jesus, Wash Away My Troubles” (1956) were major gospel hits and, in the words of Aretha Franklin (Franklin, Aretha), “perfectly chiseled jewels.”Cooke's decision to turn his attention to pop music in 1957 had tremendous implications in the black musical community. There long had been a taboo against such a move, but Cooke broke the mold. He reinvented himself as a romantic crooner in the manner of Nat King Cole (Cole, Nat King). His strength was in his smoothness. He wrote many of his best songs himself, including his first hit, the ethereal “You Send Me,” which shot to number one on all charts in 1957 and established Cooke as a superstar.While other rhythm-and-blues (rhythm and blues) artists stressed visceral sexuality, Cooke was essentially a spiritualist, even in the domain of romantic love. When he did sing dance songs—“Twistin' the Night Away” (1962), “Shake” (1965)—he did so with a delicacy theretofore unknown in rock music. Cooke also distinguished himself as an independent businessman, heading his own publishing, recording, and management firms. He broke new ground by playing nightclubs, such as the Copacabana in New York City, previously off-limits to rhythm-and-blues acts.The tragedy of his demise in 1964—he was shot to death at age 33 by a motel manager—is shrouded in mystery. But the mystery has done nothing to damage the strength of his legacy. “A Change Is Gonna Come” (1965) remains his signature song, an anthem of hope and boundless optimism that expresses the genius of his poetry and sweetness of his soul. Cooke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.David RitzRepresentative Works● “Jesus Paid the Debt”/“Blessed Be the Name of the Lord” (1953)● “Touch the Hem of His Garment”/“Jesus, Wash My Troubles Away” (1956)● Encore (1958)● Sam Cooke (1958)● Tribute to the Lady (1959)● Twistin' the Night Away (1962)● Live at the Harlem Square Club (1963)● Mr. Soul (1963)● Ain't That Good News (1964)● Sam Cooke at the Copa (1964)● Shake! (1965)Additional ReadingDaniel Wolff et al., You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke (1995), is an informative biography.
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