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Sam Cooke Biography

Home > Music > C > Cooke, Sam > Biography

Birth Name: Samuel Cook
Birth Place: U.S.
Years Active: 1950–1964
Genres: R&B, Soul, Gospel, Pop

Samuel Cook (January 22, 1931 – December 11, 1964), known professionally as Sam Cooke, was an African-American gospel, R&B, soul, and pop singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. He is considered to be one of the pioneers and founders of soul music. He is commonly known as the King of Soul for his unmatched vocal abilities and influence on the modern world of music. His contribution in pioneering Soul music contributed to the rise of artists like Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and popularizing the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown.

Cooke had 29 Top 40 hits in the U.S. between 1957 and 1964. He also charted 20 singles in the Top 10 of Billboard's R&B chart, Black Singles chart. Major hits like "You Send Me", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "Chain Gang", "Wonderful World", and "Bring It on Home to Me" 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 American Civil Rights Movement.

Cooke began his career singing gospel with his siblings in a group called The Singing Children. He first became known as lead singer with the Highway QC's as a teenager. In 1950, Cooke replaced gospel tenor R.H. Harris as lead singer of the landmark gospel group The Soul Stirrers. Under Cooke's leadership, the group signed with Specialty Records and recorded the hits "Peace in the Valley," "How Far Am I From Canaan?," "Jesus Paid the Debt" and "One More River," among many other gospel songs.

His first pop single, "Lovable" (1956), was released under the alias "Dale Cooke" in order not to alienate his gospel fan base. However, it fooled no one - Cooke's unique and distinctive vocals were easily recognized.

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&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, and signed 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," "Bring it on Home to Me" (with Lou Rawls on backing vocals), "Another Saturday Night" and "Twistin' the Night Away."

Like most R&B artists of his time, Cooke focused on singles. In spite of this, 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 ("Another Saturday Night," "(Ain't That) Good News," "Good Times," "Tennessee Waltz," and "A Change Is Gonna Come") in 1964.

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.