So recently I received an email of the anonymous kind simply with Sam Cooke in the subject line. Already, I was intrigued. Sam Cooke is, in my opinion, the best singer of all time. Aretha Franklin can wail, don’t get me wrong, she’s amazing, but Sam Cooke is effortless in his eloquence. While Aretha was still running around, singing in her father’s church in Detroit, Sam Cooke was with the Soul Stirrers performing Gospel music at it’s finest. I digress, the email. So here’s what it said:
Enjoy your site immensely. No one in the world has these live recordings of Sam Cooke in Harlem late in his life, but me & now you. Do with it what you will.
Wow! I have these golden recordings now that are amazing, but how do I justify putting them up on the blog without some pomp & circumstance? I assure you at some point they will all be released, but there’s a good chance that many of you are wondering who Sam Cooke is…that’s understandable. While his music may be transcendent he has been dead for nearly 45 years now.
Sam Cooke was one of the first Gospel to R&B crossover singers, have his own label & be number 1 on the pop & R&B charts simultaneously. Not only that he was a student of music, there is an interview where 60’s DJ, Magnificent Montague, asks Sam to hum 8 bars of what Soul represents & Sam hums the most beautiful melody that it nearly brings a man to tears knowing that this is the angelic voice of Soul music. When he wanted to, though, Sam could put some grit behind his voice. Often in his early Gospel days he would get into the song & in those moments you felt the passion he felt for the music.
His crowning achievement, as seems to happen to many artists, came posthumously. “A Change is Gonna Come” speaks of the struggle of African-Americans in the 60’s to actually be free. One of the most beautiful songs ever written, it has perfect orchestration. There is nothing overdone, but when the lyrics start to get heavier, it crescendos into this explosive climatic finish, much like Sam’s death itself. Sam Cooke represented everything that was good about music. His music can make you happy, sad, clap your hands, stomp your feet & if you listen long enough you’ll realize that his is the voice that eclipses all others.
Soul music isn’t the same as it once was. There are no Sam Cooke’s on the horizons. Perhaps, there never will be. Maybe he’s one of those once in a lifetime artists that comes on bright like a shining star, flames out early & his everlasting legacy is one of true brilliance. There is no one around today that could even compare to Sam in any way. At least in the 60’s there was Otis Redding who was at least a contemporary without the smoothness of Sam. All one can do for comfort is refer back to the words of Magnificent Montague & remember , “Sam Cooke is yours. He’ll never grow old.”
UPDATE: So when the anonymous emailer said that no one in the world had these recordings what I think he meant was anyone who has purchased the 1985 album “Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963″. I should have done a little better research, but they are beautiful recordings nonetheless. My thanks to Sam Cooke’s great nephew Erik Greene for bringing this to my attention. Erik is author of, “Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family’s Perspective”. Which I actually just got from the library yesterday, right after I wrote this post.
Chain Gang (Live) – Sam Cooke – From Anonymous Email
Having a Party (Live) – Sam Cooke – From Anonymous Email
Bring It On Home To Me (Live) – Sam Cooke – From Anonymous Email
It Won’t Be Very Long – Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers
Mean Old World – Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers
Blue Moon – Sam Cooke
If I Had a Hammer (Live) – Sam Cooke
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day – Sam Cooke
Smoke Rings – Sam Cooke
Fool’s Paradise – Sam Cooke
Cupid – Sam Cooke
A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
The Meaning of Soul – Sam Cooke w/ The Magnificent Montague