Sam Cooke: King of soul

Thesis: "King of Soul" singer sam cooke was one of the most prominent gospel and soul vocalist in the 50s and 60s, expressing himself unapologetically through his artistry.

Just Getting Started

Samuel Cook was born on Jauary 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi to Reverned Charles Cook and his wife Annie. He was the fifth of eight children. 

In 1933 Cooke’s family moved to Chicago, and Cooke began a singing group called the singing children with his siblings at the age of six. Cook later advanced his career with the “Highway QCs” as lead singer.

In 1950, Cooke joined the gospel group The Soul Stirrers, bringing the attention of gospel music to younger listeners. Cooke was devoted to his music, and his voice was seductive and emotionally moving, making him irresistible to all audiences regardless of race or religion. In 1956, cook debuted his R&B pop crossover “You Send Me,” Selling 1.7 million copies and reaching number one on the pop and R&B charts.

Cook credited a lot of his musical influence to artists like R.H. Harris of the Soul Stirrers, Bob Dylan, and Ray Charles.

Cooke used his music to advocate heavily for civil rights and through this activism came the quiet protest song known as "A Change is Gonna Come." Cooke became one of the first black performers at the time to focus outside of just their musical success and more on issues affecting people within their community.

Musical Stylings of Sam Cooke

Cooke also used his platform two commercially popularize the crossover of genres Breaking ground by blending R&B, pop, and gospel While also keeping characteristics accurate to the original genres, such as the crooning, urban nature of pop; soulful, emotional gospel style that omitted the loud shouting that many gospel songs mimicked.

The “golden voice” of Sam Cooke enchanted millions of Americans with his blends of Blues, Gospel, Rhythm, and Pop Music in the 1960s, dubbing him the pioneer of soul music. After developing a national following within the gospel community as a member of the Soul Stirrers, Cooke began to spark controversy within the gospel community, crossing religious and secular music. He also added an “e” to his last name, establishing his identity as a rhythm and Blues pop singer.

Sam Cooke the Business Man

Cooke was the first famous African American singer to manage his record label known as SAR Records. This came from Cooke’s interest in his significant record sales and his interest in controlling his copyright protection. Cooke started his own publishing company as well. In 1963, Cooke made a deal with the record label that he was signed to, guaranteeing him a minimum advance of half a million dollars over three years for Sam to gain complete ownership of his work. He was also very active in the civil rights scene and made headlines for refusing to perform at a segregated concert in Memphis. This was seen as the first real effort and civil disobedience especially displayed by those prevalent in the media.

Personal Life

Cooke was no stranger to tragedy nor the price of fame. During his time with the soul stirrers, it said that Cooke had three pregnant girlfriends at one time. Cooke’s first wife was cute in a car accident one year after their divorce in 1958. Cook funded the funeral even though they were divorced. In the same year, Cooke married his second wife, Barbara Campbell, with whom he shared three children, Tracy, Linda, and Vincent who drowned in their family swimming pool at 18 months. It’s also known that Cooke’s protégé Bobby Womack was entangled in a love triangle with Sam and Barbara. Following Sam Cooke’s death, Bobby Womack and Barbara Campbell were married three months later. Barbara and Womack had a son who they named Vincent after her late son with Sam. Vincent later passed away at the age of 21 by suicide.


Cooke’s family disagreed with the marriage, and three of Cooke’s brothers met the couple in a Chicago hotel and beat up Womack. In Womack’s autobiography, He described himself as a dazed and delusional young man seduced by his parents’ friend urging him to marry Campbell. With all the negative feedback on their relationship, Womack turned to cocaine use and began to molest his stepdaughter Linda.

Death + Legacy

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