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Sam Cooke (1931-1964), Rising from Clarksdale, Mississippi to Become One of the Greatest American Singer-Songwriters in History

The Hersch

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Sam Cooke sang like an angel come down to earth. His cruelly curtailed career (shot dead in 1964 aged 33) spanned gospel, blues, rock-n-roll, and, towards the end, a kind of jazz-inflected pop that might be at home in Vegas nightclubs.

Here are a couple of more-or-less rock-n-roll numbers. "You Send Me" and "Wonderful World" are better known, but I like these more:

"Bring it on Home to Me" (1962)

"You're Always on my Mind" (1961)

Gospel recordings with the Soul Stirrers (1926-), before Sam Cooke was a pop sensation:

"Jesus I'll Never Forget" (Recorded in 1954)

"I'm Gonna Build Right on that Shore" (Recorded in 1951)


"Fool's Paradise" (Written in 1955, covered on the 1963 Album "Night Beat"):

"Don't Get Around Much Anymore" (Written in 1940, covered on the 1961 album, "My Kind of Blues"):

As I say, one for the ages.

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I once had a 2 hour drunken discussion/argument about whose voice one should want as their own in a perfect world: Sam Cooke or Otis Redding.

I can't remember from which side I argued.

As one who more or less worships both of those voices, I would have to reluctantly choose Sam Cooke's. More supple, more intrinsically musical, certainly prettier. Not quite as capable of tearing you, or a song, to pieces, though. Tell you what, you be Otis and I'll be Sam. (I suspect Otis Redding would have chosen Sam Cooke's voice for himself had it been available.)

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"A Change Is Gonna Come" is often considered Sam Cooke's most "important" song. It was his one major intervention in the civil-rights moment, and it's a really beautiful song and he sang it really beautifully. I'm afraid I can't help cringing at the overblown, schmaltzy orchestration, and I wish he had done a different recording of it, but this is the one we have, so it's the one we must love:


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