An introduction to Sam Cooke, the ‘King of Soul’

October 8 2022, by Olly Gurney

The 1960s was a time of protest, conflict and change across the world. However, America during this time was a very hard place to live if you were part of any ethnic minority group and while social tensions were high, a lot of the people had one thing in common. This was that they needed to see a change in how people who belonged to ethnic minority groups were treated. Figures like Malcom X and Martin Luther King Jr. did all they could in leading marches, making speeches, and leading movements to end segregation and prejudice in America. At the same time, musicians wanted to contribute to these movements by doing what they did best, making music. Singers like Marvin Gaye and Ray Charles expressed their thoughts and anger on the topic of racial segregation in songs like, ‘What’s going on’ and, ‘Georgia on my mind’. Sam Cooke was among these artists who created music to oppose the police brutality and prejudice that was so prominent back then and is still happening today.

‘A change is gonna come’ is a song by Sam Cooke that was inspired by various events of his life, addressing the sickening reality that he has been living in. The even that somewhat sparked Cooke’s writing of this song was when he was travelling to Louisiana with his wife and band, and upon arrival at a motel, they were turned away because of their colour. Cooke demanded to speak to the manager and refused to leave until he had spoken to him until his wife nudged him and whispered, ‘They’ll kill you’. This says a lot about the attitude of African Americans living in America at the time, because they had to be so cautious and respectful of other people. After hearing this, Cooke, his wife, and his band left the motel, shouting back at the owners and blaring their horns, hoping to find another place to stay. They arrived at another hotel and found the police waiting there, ready to arrest them for, ‘disturbing the peace’. This alone angered the whole black population of America and whilst listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin in the wind’, Cooke decided that he would do what he could to write a song like Bob Dylan to express his shame in current America, and his hope for the future.

In March of 1964, Sam Cooke released the R&B and soul hit, ‘A Change is gonna come’ with RCA studio in Hollywood. As soon as people heard this song, it showed that Sam Cooke was not afraid to talk about the horrific state of his country, and that it needed to be resolved instantly. However, while this song served as relief and reassurance to a lot of the country, there were still many people who found this song offensive to their beliefs and were not happy with the message that it was giving. It caused an uproar amongst many of the white population of America. So much so that There were assassination attempts on Cooke, and one was successful. On December 11th, 1964, just 10 months after the release of, ‘A change is gonna come’, Sam Cooke was found dead on the floor of his room in the Hacienda Motel with three shots in his chest. His murderer was the Motel Manager, Bertha Franklin, who plead not guilty as the authorities ruled the case as ‘justifiable Homicide’.

To people who know the story of Sam Cooke, it is both angering and infuriating as it brings to light the danger of being an influential African American in America during the 20th century, and the prominence of Police Brutality in places like America, that is still too common today. However, it also makes us admire everyone who paid the ultimate sacrifice in doing what was right, Martin Luther King JR, Jimmie Lee Jackson, and many others.

Olly Gurney, L6

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