Sam Cooke

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About Sam Cooke

A teen gospel star known for his uncommon charisma as a frontman, Sam Cooke successfully translated the rousing warmth of church standards to the breezy realm of secular pop. After leading The Soul Stirrers, Cooke (born Samuel Cook in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1931) quickly recorded a procession of hit solo singles that continue to endure. His 1957 breakthrough “You Send Me” distills devotional themes into a romantically pure ballad, while “Chain Gang” similarly repurposes the blues’ classic call-and-response motif. Cooke crafted a distinctive vocal signature with his immaculate phrasing and playful curlicues, establishing himself as an affable recording artist while maintaining a thrillingly animated live presence that made ample use of his early days in church. As heard on “Cupid” and “Only Sixteen,” his seamless blending of gospel grace, bluesy swagger, and pop lightness threw open the doors for soul music as a mainstream proposition, all without trading away his genuine flair as a singer. Likewise, “Having a Party” and “Twisting the Night Away” capture a celebratory air that still feels spontaneous and true to life today. Following Cooke’s sudden death at age 33, his posthumous 1964 single “A Change Is Gonna Come” emerged as a steadfast anthem for the civil rights movement, both then and now.

Clarksdale, MS, United States
January 22, 1931
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