Musicheads Essential Artist: Sam Cooke

Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke in 1964, performing on the ABC variety show Shindig! just a few months before his death that December. (ABC Photo Archives/Getty Images)
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Sam Cooke had an unmistakable voice: smooth as silk, sweet as honey. Cooke was suave and good-looking; he had charisma to boot. This guy had all the goods...there was a reason they called him the King of Soul.

Like so many of the greats, Sam Cooke grew up in a religious family. He learned to sing at the same Baptist church where his father was a minister. Cooke first made a splash when he joined the gospel group the Soul Stirrers: girls would rush the stage just to catch a glimpse of him.

This was unheard of in the gospel world. Ultimately, Cooke left the Soul Stirrers for a soul career in the secular world. He released his first single in 1956 under the alias Dale Cook. That was because he didn't want to alienate his gospel fan base. It didn't fool a soul.

Sam Cooke reeled off a string of hits in the late '50s through 1964: songs like "Another Saturday Night" and the powerful, Bob-Dylan-inspired "A Change is Gonna Come."

By the end of 1964, Cooke was gone but far from forgotten. Cooke was shot and killed in mysterious circumstances at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles. He only lived to be 33, but he left quite an impression.

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