Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sam Cooke

(editorial note: Inspiration to write this article came from the sad fact that so few of the younger budding musicians I come across seem to know of Same Cooke, and so this is my small step to rectifying that condition, as I will be referring them to this article henceforth.)

DURING HIS LIFETIME - 29 Top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100 (and on the R&B charts, 4 of those landed at #1 and 20 of those were top 10); inventor of a musical style that opened the door for the rise of artist like Aretha Franklin to Al Green, Curtis Mayfield to Stevie Wonder; helped popularize James Brown and Otis Redding; composed his own songs in a pop music world typically separating writers from performers, and demonstrated a business savvy that rivaled the established label owners & management companies (he started his own label in 1961, a move unheard of for an artist at the time)....and all this in an all-too-brief 8 year career.

His compositional style often featured a I-vi-IV-V progression that has been called variously the Doowop progression, the Hoagy Charmichael progression, and, of course, the Sam Cooke progression.

His singing style has had a major impact on popular music, with artists as wide ranging as Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Journey's Steve Perry, R. Kelly, & Rod Stewart (and the list goes on and on) citing Cooke as a major influence.

And he has been called both the Father of Soul and the King of Soul. 

During his lifetime, he also refused to perform at segregated concerts, giving courage to others to also speak and act in accordance with their conscience. And his song "A Change is Gonna Come" has been called an anthem of the Civil Rights movement.

Often compared to Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" (or called an answer to said song), the reality is "A Change is Gonna Come" stands firmly on its own, inspired more by a particular event in Cooke''s own life than any particular song (though the initial inspiration he said to write a political song came from hearing Dylan's song). So powerful a song it is that it has been recorded over the years by hundreds of artists (including Seal, James Taylor, Allman Brothers, Bettye LaVette & Jon Bon Jovi, Patti LaBelle, Beyonce', Ben Sollee, Terence Trent D'Arby, and more), and former president Barack Obama referenced the song in Chicago in his 2008 speech after winning the election (Cooke was from Chicago) when he said, "It's been a long time coming, but tonight, change has come to America.".

And if that wasn't enough for one song, "A Change is Gonna Come" was first performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson on February 7, 1964; in 2007, the song was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress, with the National Recording Registry deeming the song "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important."; and it is #12 on Rolling Stone Magazine's "500 Greatest Songs of All Time" list.

And that is just ONE song.

Other classic pieces include his debut single "You Send Me" (#1 single called one of the 500 most important rock and roll recordings by the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and #115 on the aforementioned "500" list), "Chain Gang", "Wonderful World", "Twisting the Night Away", "Bring it On Home to Me", "Cupid", "Another Saturday Night", and more.

Since his death (a controversial topic we'll not discuss here - as this piece is about celebrating his music and influence - except to say it was simply tragic and a huge loss for the world), he has been inducted into the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame twice (once as a solo artist and once for his earlier work with The Soul Stirrers), the Songwriter's Hall of Fame, the National Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, is ranked the fourth "Greatest Singer of All Time" and 16th on its list of the "100 Greatest Artists of All Time" by Rolling Stone, is recipient of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and more. Much more.

If you find you are not familiar with Cooke, you will certainly find an entire treasure trove of musical riches awaiting you.

My advice: Dive in.

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