Monday, 6 October 2014

Music Monday - Sam Cooke: King Of Soul

As a matter of fact ...

Do you like Soul music? Even if you don't, you've probably heard of the likes of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Ottis Reading and James Brown. The list goes on, but what do they all have in common apart from being Soul music greats? Well, a lot of people have attributed the rise and popularisation of their music as being tracable to one man: Sam Cooke.

He's a househould name within a generation of Soul lovers but I know from speaking to friends and family he's almost never talked about when listing off the greats I just mentioned. I'd like to shed some light on the sometimes forgotten 'King of Soul' who rekindled my love for the genre and look at the mystery behind his rise and fall.

Sam Cooke, born in Chicago in 1931, has been credited as being the best of his time. Like many black Soul musicians of his time, Cooke started out on the gospel circuit from a young age. His father was a Baptist minister and it was from this background that he began his music career as a member of 'The Singing Children' at just 9 years old. 

By 17, he was already signed to a record label with his group 'The Soul Stirrers' in 1950. From there, he began to branch into pop music: a decision which ultimately caused a rift between his traditional label manager and his aspirations as a secular artist. 

In 1957, Cooke achieved his first billboard success. His catchy melodic swinger 'You Send Me' reached the number 1 spot in both the R&B and Pop charts. 

From there, the prodigy took off. In 1961, he created his own label and proceeded to release a wealth of singles: 29 of which made it to the top 40. This is where most of his most famous catalog numbers can be found with such gems as 'Chain Gang', 'Cupid' and 'Twistin' The Night Away' which are all personal favourites of mine. 

It all ended in 1963 in a story as tragic as it is mysterious. Sam Cooke was shot by a hotel manager who claimed self-defense. She told the official police report that Cooke was drunk, aggressive and wearing nothing but shoes and a sports jacket and that he persistently asked the whereabouts of a woman who he had accompanied back to the hotel. The manager claimed Cooke was aggressive and drunk and so fearing for her life,  she shot Cooke once in the heart. He was dead by the time police arrived on the scene. 

Cooke's companion, a woman by the name of Elisa Boyer, said that Sam had persuaded her to return to his hotel room but that she changed her mind when they got to his room. When he went to the bathroom, she grabbed her clothes (and some of his by accident) and ran out of the building.

The details are murky and the most important angle of all, Cooke's, will never be heard. There have been many criticisms of the police report and the actions of the hotel manager. Some have also said that the situation, Cooke's death and the lax police report would not have arisen if he had been a white man in 1963. 

I believe that within this hazy end to Cooke's life lies the reason why his legacy hasn't reached the emerging generations of music lovers. After his death, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame, got a lifetime achievement Grammy and was ranked 16th on Rolling Stone's '100 Greatest Artists of All Time,' 

Despite all this, his name is no longer brought up alongside the likes of Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Otis Reading. I believe that his mysterious and violent at only 33 years old was a major contributing factor to this.

When it comes to music though, it doesn't matter how long someone lived, what they did or how they died: what matters is the music. With this in mind, I think it would be a great shame to not bring the King of Soul's music back into the mainstream mentality. 

I bring up his name whenever I can in music conversations and now, with the help of this blog, perhaps his name and his inspiring music can reach just a little bit further.


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