Samuel Cook (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964), known by his stage name Sam Cooke, and on one recording as Dale Cook, was an American recording artist, singer-songwriter and entrepreneur. Cooke is considered to be one of the pioneers and founders of soul music and is commonly known as the King of Soul for his distinctive vocal abilities and influence on the modern world of music. His pioneering contributions to soul music led 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.
Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, and a further three after his death. 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 African-American Civil Rights Movement.
On December 11, 1964, Cooke was fatally shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 33. At the time, the courts ruled that Cooke was drunk and distressed, and that the manager had killed Cooke in what was later ruled a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been widely questioned.
Early life and career
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 Annie Mae and the Reverend Charles Cook, a Baptist minister. He had a brother, L.C., who some years later would become a member of the doo-wop band Johnny Keyes and the Magnificents. The 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.
Cooke began his career with his siblings in a group called The Singing Children when he was nine. He first became known as lead singer with the Highway QC's as a teenager joining at the age of 14. Soon after graduating high school, Cooke was offered the opportunity to join The Soul Stirrers and hone his musical abilities. In 1950, Cooke replaced gospel tenor R.H. Harris as lead singer of the gospel group The Soul Stirrers, founded by Harris. Under Cooke's leadership, the group signed with Specialty Records where their first recording was for the song "Jesus Gave Me Water" in 1951. They also recorded other gospel tracks, such as "Peace in the Valley," "How Far Am I From Canaan?," "Jesus Paid the Debt," and "One More River," among many other gospel songs some of which he wrote himself. Cooke was often credited for bringing gospel music to the attention of a younger crowd of listeners, mainly girls who would rush to the stage when the Soul Stirrers hit the stage just to get a glimpse of Cooke.
Crossover pop success
His first pop single was "Lovable" (1956), which was a remake of the gospel song "Wonderful" and was released under the alias "Dale Cook" in order not to alienate his gospel fan base; there was a considerable stigma against gospel singers performing secular music. However, it fooled no one—Cooke's unique and distinctive vocals were easily recognized. Art Rupe, head of Specialty Records, the label of the Soul Stirrers, gave his blessing for Cooke to record secular music under his real name, but he was unhappy about the type of music Cooke and producer Bumps Blackwell were making. Rupe expected Cooke's secular music to be similar to that of another Specialty Records artist, Little Richard. When Rupe walked in on a recording session and heard Cooke covering Gershwin, he was quite upset. After an argument between Rupe and Blackwell, Cooke and Blackwell left the label.
In 1957, Cooke appeared on ABC's The Guy Mitchell Show. That same year, he signed with Keen Records. His first release, "You Send Me" (the B-side of a reworking of George Gershwin's "Summertime"), spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard R and B chart. The song also had mainstream success, spending three weeks at #1 on the Billboard pop chart.
In 1961, Cooke started his own record label, SAR Records, with J.W. Alexander and his manager, Roy Crain. The label soon included The Simms Twins, The Valentinos, Bobby Womack, and Johnnie Taylor. Cooke then created a publishing imprint and management firm before leaving Keen to sign with RCA Victor. One of his first RCA singles was the hit "Chain Gang". It reached #2 on the Billboard pop chart and was followed by more hits, including "Sad Mood," "Cupid," "Bring it on Home to Me" (with Lou Rawls on backing vocals), "Another Saturday Night," and "Twistin' the Night Away."
Like most R and B artists of his time, Cooke focused on singles; in all, he had twenty-nine top 40 hits on the pop charts, and more on the R and B charts. He was a prolific songwriter and wrote most of the songs he recorded. He also had a hand in overseeing some of the song arrangements. In spite of releasing mostly singles, he released a well received blues-inflected LP in 1963, Night Beat, and his most critically acclaimed studio album, Ain't That Good News, which featured five singles, in 1964.
Loss of son
In 1963, Cooke's 18 month old son, Vincent, wandered away from his mother's supervision and drowned in their front yard pool while Sam was away from the home. With their marriage already in trouble largely due to extramarital affairs by both Sam and his wife, Barbara, the distance between them 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 33 on December 11, 1964, at the Hacienda Motel at 9137 South Figueroa Street in Los Angeles, California. Answering separate reports of a shooting and of a kidnapping at the motel, police found Cooke's body, clad only in a sports jacket and shoes but no shirt, pants or underwear. He had sustained a gunshot wound to the chest, with it later determined that the bullet had pierced his heart. The motel's manager reported that she had 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 have remained in dispute.
Bertha Franklin, manager of the Hacienda Motel, told police that she shot and killed Cooke in self-defense because he had attacked her. The official police record states that Franklin fatally shot Cooke, who had checked in earlier that evening. Franklin claimed that Cooke had broken into the manager's office-apartment in a rage, wearing nothing but a shoe and a sports coat, demanding to know the whereabouts of a woman who had accompanied him to the hotel. Franklin said that the woman was not in the office and that she told Cooke this, but the enraged Cooke did not believe her and violently grabbed her, demanding again to know the woman's whereabouts. According to Franklin, she grappled with Cooke, the two of them fell to the floor, and she then got up and ran to retrieve her gun. She said that she then fired at Cooke in self-defense because she feared for her life. Cooke was struck once in the torso and, according to Franklin, he exclaimed "Lady, you shot me" before mounting a last charge at her. She said that she beat him over his head with a broomstick before he finally fell, mortally wounded by the gunshot.
According to Franklin and the motel's owner, Evelyn Carr (whose last name is identified by some sources as "Card" rather than "Carr"), they had been on the telephone together at the time of the incident. Thus, Carr claimed to have overheard Cooke's intrusion and the ensuing conflict and gunshots. Carr called the police to request that they go to the motel, informing them that she believed a shooting had occurred.
A coroner's inquest was convened to investigate the incident. The woman who had accompanied Cooke to the motel was identified as Elisa Boyer, who had also called the police that night shortly before Carr. Boyer had called the police from a telephone booth near the motel, telling them she had just escaped being kidnapped.
Boyer told the police that she had first met Cooke earlier that night and had spent the evening in his company. She claimed that after they left a local nightclub together, she had repeatedly requested that he take her home, but he instead took her against her will to the Hacienda Motel. She claimed that once in one of the motel's rooms, Cooke physically forced her onto the bed and that she was certain he was going to rape her. According to Boyer, when Cooke stepped into the bathroom for a moment, she quickly grabbed her clothes and ran from the room. She claimed that in her haste, she had also scooped up most of Cooke's clothing by mistake. She said that she ran first to the manager's office and knocked on the door seeking help. However, she said that the manager took too long in responding, so, fearing Cooke would soon be coming after her, she fled the motel altogether before the manager ever opened the door. She claimed she then put her own clothing back on, hid Cooke's clothing, and went to the telephone booth from which she called police.
Boyer's story is the only account of what happened between the two that night; however, her story has long been called into question. Inconsistencies between her version of events and details reported by other witnesses, as well as circumstantial evidence (e.g., thousands in cash that Cooke was reportedly carrying were never recovered, and Boyer was soon after arrested for prostitution), invited speculation that Boyer may have gone willingly to the motel with Cooke, then slipped out of the room with Cooke's clothing in order to rob him, rather than to escape an attempted rape.
Such questions were ultimately deemed beyond the scope of the inquest, whose purpose was to establish the circumstances of Franklin's role in the shooting, not to determine precisely what had transpired between Cooke and Boyer preceding the event. Boyer's leaving the motel room with almost all of Cooke's clothing, regardless of exactly why she did so, combined with the fact that tests showed Cooke was inebriated at the time, provided what inquest jurors deemed a plausible explanation for Cooke's bizarre behavior and state of dress, as reported by Franklin and Carr. This explanation, in conjunction with the fact that Carr's testimony corroborated Franklin's version of events, and the fact that police officials testified that both Boyer and Franklin had passed lie detector tests, was enough to convince the coroner's jury to accept Franklin's explanation and return a verdict of justifiable homicide. With that verdict, authorities officially closed the case on Cooke's death.
Some of Cooke's family and supporters, however, have rejected Boyer's version of events, as well as those given by Franklin and Carr. They believe that there was a conspiracy to murder Cooke and that the murder took place in some manner entirely different from the three official accounts. Singer Etta James wrote that her viewing of Cooke's body, prior to his funeral, led her to join those who question the accuracy of the official version of events. She reported that the injuries she observed were well beyond what could be explained by the official account of Franklin alone having fought with Cooke. James described Cooke as having been so badly beaten that his head was nearly separated from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed, and his nose mangled.
No concrete evidence supporting a conspiracy theory has been presented to date.
The first funeral service for Cooke was held in Chicago at A.R. Leak Funeral Home, where thousands of fans had lined up for over four city blocks to view his body. Afterward, his body was flown back to Los Angeles for a second service at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church, which included a much-heralded performance of "Angels Keep Watching Over Me" by Ray Charles. Cooke was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery in Glendale, California.
Some posthumous releases of Cooke recordings followed, many of which became hits, including "A Change Is Gonna Come", an early protest song that is generally regarded as his greatest composition. After Cooke's death, his widow, Barbara, married Bobby Womack. Cooke's daughter, Linda, later married Bobby's brother, Cecil.
Bertha Franklin said that she was the recipient of numerous death threats after the slaying of Cooke. She left her position at the Hacienda Motel and did not publicly disclose the location to which she had moved. After her exoneration by the coroner's jury, she sued Cooke's estate, citing physical injuries and mental anguish suffered as a result of Cooke's attack. Her lawsuit requested $200,000 (USD) in compensatory and punitive damages. Barbara Womack countersued Franklin on behalf of the estate, seeking $7,000 (USD) in damages to cover Cooke's funeral expenses. Elisa Boyer provided testimony in support of Franklin in the case. In 1967, a jury ruled in favor of Franklin on both counts, awarding her $30,000 (USD) in damages.
In 1986, Cooke was inducted as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1999, Cooke was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and in 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him #16 on their list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time".  In 2008, Cooke was named the fourth "Greatest Singer of All Time" by Rolling Stone. In June 2011, the City of Chicago renamed a portion of East 36th Street near Cottage Grove Avenue as the honorary "Sam Cooke Way" to remember the singer near a corner where he hung out and sang as a teenager.
Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick (2005) ISBN 0-316-37794-5
Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story from His Family's Perspective by Erik Greene (2005) ISBN 1-4120-6498-8
You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke by Daniel Wolff, S. R. Crain, Clifton White, and G. David Tenenbaum (1995) ISBN 0-688-12403-8
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22.^ Milicia, Joe. (2005, December 6). "Sam Cooke's story told from 'the inside out'—A thorough effort to give him his due" Associated Press "That he was killed after being scammed by a prostitute just didn’t make sense to many people. It’s an end that his sister, Agnes Cooke-Hoskins, still discounts. 'My brother was first class all the way. He would not check into a $3 a night motel; that wasn’t his style,' she said while attending a recent tribute to Cooke at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum."
23.^ Greene, Erik. (2006). Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story from His Family's Perspective, Trafford Publishing. ISBN 1-4122-0987-0
24.^ Burke, Solomon. Interview conducted by Gary James "I still think there was some kind of conspiracy ... I've always felt there was some sort of conspiracy there ... I listened to the reports and I listened to the story of what happened and I can imagine Sam going after his pants. I can imagine Sam going up to the counter and saying 'Hey, somebody just took my pants.' And he's standing there, seeing the woman with his pants. I can imagine him saying "Give me my pants." But I can't imagine him attacking her. He wasn't that type of person to attack somebody. That wasn't his bag. He was a lover, OK. He wasn't a fighter. He wasn't a boxer. You never heard of Sam Cooke beating up his women."
25.^ Guralnick, Peter. (2005, November 16). Interview conducted by Ed Gordon, National Public Radio "I would say within the community there is not a single person that believes that Sam Cooke died as he is said to have died: killed by a motel owner at a cheap motel in Los Angeles called the Hacienda which he had gone to with a prostitute named Elisa Boyer. I could have filled a hundred pages of the book with an appendix on all the theories about his death. Central tenet of every one of those theories is that this was a case of another proud black man brought down by the white establishment who simply didn't want to see him grow any bigger. I looked into this very carefully. I had access to the private investigators' report, which nobody had seen and which filled in a good many more details. And no evidence has ever been adduced to prove any of these theories."
26.^ Hildebrand, Lee. "Elvis biographer Peter Guralnick tackles another music legend: Sam Cooke", San Francisco Bay Guardian online "'In the course of the two or three hundred different interviews with different people that I did for the book, there are two or three hundred different conspiracy theories,' he explained. 'While they were all extremely interesting, and while every one of them reflected a basic truth about prejudice in America in 1964 and the truth of the prejudice that has continued into the present day, none of them came accompanied by any evidence beyond that metaphorical truth.'"
27.^ Drozdowski, Ted. (2002, Marc 14-21). Soul man, Sam Cooke's fulfilling late period "It’s hard to buy into conspiracy theories, though several swirl around this incident that paint Cooke as the victim of a plot by white supremacists to silence the country’s most popular self-empowered black man."
28.^ James, Etta; Ritz, David (2003). Rage To Survive: The Etta James Story. Da Capo Press. p. 151. ISBN 0-306-81262-2.
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