Sam Cooke is one of the original soul singers of America, beginning his career in 1951 and remaining active until his death in 1964. He had a number of major hits during his career, such as “Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” “You Send Me,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Sad Mood,” “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” “Summertime” and “Wonderful World.” In addition to his feats as a musician, he was one of the first black artists of his time to start his own record company and publish his own records. He was known for his skills as a composer, as well as for the distinctive smoothness of his voice.
Everything about Cooke’s singing style was professional, down to the letter. He had an open-throated style, able to accurately hit vowel sounds down to a sixteenth of a second. He was on pitch, and he took a direct approach to his vocals that signified his confidence as a singer. Cooke would often repeat words or syllables, using a different note for each repetition, in order to draw attention to the feeling that the lyrics were meant to express. This is notable in the song “You Send Me,” which features Cooke scatting in between lines and repetitions.
Sam Cooke did not start out singing soul music. He was the son of a minister, so his first real exposure to music was what he heard in church. He began as a gospel singer before eventually moving into rhythm and blues. Songs like “Wonderful World” demonstrate the type of idealistic worldview with which he had grown up, dedicated to finding the good in others. The genuine good will that he appeared to feel toward his fellow man caused many to later question the circumstances of his death, and whether or not the motel manager who shot him was as justified as she claimed. More than fifty years after the shooting, accounts of the event are still disputed.
Due to his influence on the music world, Sam Cooke has received a number of posthumous honors. Two years after his death, he was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of its charter members. One year after that, he was introduced to the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He also received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, and part of East 36th Street in Chicago was named after him in 2011. Finally, in 2013, Cleveland State University inducted him into their Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame.
Sam Cooke has one of the most long-lasting influences in the world of blues music. Many of his most notable songs have been covered by numerous artists, especially “Wonderful World,” which has become one of the most timeless classics of his career. Between the wealth of songs he left behind and the posthumous honors he has received since his death in 1984, Sam Cooke stands to persevere as one of the greatest names to come out of the music industry during his time.
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