It is with much appreciation that I acknowledge the several individuals who assisted me, provided contact information, photos, rarely heard stories, music, reading materials, and insight with regard to the inventor of soul music — Sam Cooke — who would have been 80 years old on Jan. 22.
Unfortunately, he died — in what some still believe is an unsolved murder — in 1964.
Additionally I’d like to give a shout to PR guru Bob Merlis for his inspiring e-mail noting the occasion of Cooke’s 80th birthday. Also, the following entities were beyond helpful as I researched the life of the son of a minister who would essentially create the music genre of soul, Sam Cooke, particularly his last two years on earth: ABKCO Records, the Atlantic City Free Public Library, the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey, Back Bay Books and HDTracks.
First, I want to thank everybody who was a source for this week’s cover story: Henrietta Shelton, who helped hook me up with some of the key interviewees; Patti Harris, who took my Friday evening call just as she was getting ready to head to the Atlantic City funeral of the late Omar Anderson; Yvonne Walton for her memories and help in locating Betty Jo Spyropulos, who, as I would find out, spent several years in Atlantic City as a dancer at Club Harlem in the 1960s and at for at least a couple of weeks had an intimate friendship with Cooke when he was in town during the summer of 1964. A thank you also goes out to her son for getting the rarely seen photos of her and Cooke in Atlantic City off of his mom’s jump drive and e-mailing them to me. Tracey Jordan at ABKCO Records was a huge help from the get-go, sending me the 2003 Sam Cooke DVD Legend, as well as her own copy of the renowned music writer Paul Guralnick’s 2005 Cooke biography Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke (I’ll send it back right away).
Jordan also helped — as did Atlantic City Weekly freelancer Tom Wilk — in getting me in touch with Guralnick down in Nashville. Speaking with Peter was obviously very insightful and his grasp of Cooke’s life and work — and of the history of American music — is as tight as a newly tied pair of shoelaces. (I truly appreciate your time and your flexibility, Peter.)
Thanks also goes to Heather Halpin Perez and her team, especially Shannon, at the Atlantic City Free Public Library for pulling the 1964 Atlantic City Press articles, Club Harlem posters, the Club Harlem ad and some of the photos I was looking for — some of which can be seen in our online photo gallery at acweekly.com. A tremendous a help along the way.
Atlantic City historians Ralph Hunter, Vicki Gold-Levi and Allen “Boo” Pergament were not only inspirations as I researched and wrote this tribute to Sam Cooke from an Atlantic City vantage point, but the latter two helped me with the photo that appears on the first page of the story — the one that shows Cooke’s name on the Club Harlem banner. (The line of patrons in the picture, I learned from Pergament, stretched south down Kentucky Avenue and not north as I had thought; thanks for clearing that up Boo.)
The late Sid Trusty, who assisted Guralnick with the Atlantic City scenes in Dream Boogie, was also an inspiring force during the writing of this piece. I met him a few years before Ray Charles passed away, and interviewed him when Charles died. As I recall, he remarked then about the Cooke shows at Club Harlem.
I also need to thank Eve, who, on behalf of Back Bay Books & Hachette Book Group USA, sent me my own copy of Dream Boogie to read, reference (and enjoy) for the story; Kurt Gippert, who I tracked down from his online rare book, historic documents, and autographs Web site (kurtgippert.com), where I saw that he was selling a 1964 program from the Club Harlem with Cooke listed as one of the summer’s acts and signed by Cooke himself — it may still be there, but not for long; Lisa Hershfield for her assistance with downloading promo “copies” of the four new Sam Cooke digital albums — Keep Movin’ On, Ain’t That Good News, Sam Cooke at the Copa and the career-encompassing Portrait of a Legend: 1951-1964 — released via a partnership between ABKCO and HDTracks, in 88.2kHz/24 bit audio files; Bob Dylan, for writing the song “Blowin’ in the Wind,” which was a big influence on Sam in 1963-64 (so I could find yet another reason to write about Dylan), and, finally, my wife Victoria and my two daughters for putting up with me being immersed in Sam Cooke’s music and life — including nightly plays of his albums at home — and working in my basement studio-office, with Sam Cooke (and other) related books, pages of scribbled notes, his albums, CDs, the DVD, and little notes all over the floor and on top of any surface that I could find — for the better part of the past few weeks.
If you are a fan of Sam Cooke, or of America, you should read Dream Boogie as soon as you can. Even if you don’t know a Sam Cooke, you won’t be disappointed with Guarlnick’s amazing book. Further, the two live albums that I refer to in the story — the Copa album and the Live at the Harlem Square Club album — are among the greatest live shows I’ve ever heard. I’ve had the latter playing in my car for about a month. My five-year-old daughter loves “Cupid” and her two-year-old sister loves to bop her head in the car to “Twistin’ the Night Away.”
On Jan. 22, Cooke would have been 80. On that day, to celebrate this imperfect man whose talent was magical and whose presence has been missed since Dec. 11, 1964. The inventor of soul music Mr. Sam Cooke. Why not download one of the new digital releases and either twist the night away, get a little romantic, bring it on home, or sing along with Cooke’s ever-meaningful “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
By the way, Tracey J., I wasn’t able to finish the oil-pastel drawing of Sam that I had wanted to use for this week’s cover. I couldn’t get it done in time for our deadline, and I’m still working on it. I’ll let you know.
May Sam Cooke’s otherworldly, powerful, sensuous, spirit-lifting and outstandingly beautiful voice continue to inspire greatness and love for years to come.
Here below is the “Web Extra” referred to in the print edition of the Jan. 20, 2011 issue of Atlantic City Weekly. It’s a list of five Bob Dylan-Sam Cooke Connections. I’m sure there are several more. Feel free to leave a comment if you think of any:
Sam Cooke & Bob Dylan: A ‘Change’ in the ‘Wind’
Many writers and critics have noted (with their pens) that Sam Cooke was inspired to write his 1964 song “A Change Is Gonna Come” after hearing Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” recorded in 1963.
As both songs would become meshed with the Civil Rights movement in the mid-1960s, and to this day remain symbolic of the “protest era,” both Cooke and Dylan would become “voices” for their respective generations and audiences. While both songs have been performed and recorded by countless artists around the globe, more recent, in 2007 Cooke’s “Change” was referenced by Barack Obama after he won the U.S. presidential election and told the tens of thousands gathered at Chicago’s Grant Park on that cold November night that, “It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, change has come to America.” (Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi did a duet on the song for the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial program.)
Even including “Blowin’ in the Wind” in his repertoire during what would be his final years of performing— Cooke sings it on his posthumous 1965 album (recorded in the summer of 1964) Live at the Copa — it has been said that Cooke admired Dylan’s song so much that he was moved to pen one of his greatest songs, “A Change Is Gonna Come” — the title of which gives a tip of the cap to another Dylan song of the era “The Times They Are A-Changin’” — which would, following Cooke’s murder in December 1964, become one of the most important songs of the Civil Rights movement.
Here, read more about the relationship between “Wind” and “Change” and find out about other Dylan-Cooke connections:
1. In Rolling Stone’s “100 Greatest Singers of All Time,” Bono pays tribute to number seven on the list, Bob Dylan, with a Sam Cooke story:
“Bob Dylan did what very, very few singers ever do. He changed popular singing. And we have been living in a world shaped by Dylan’s singing ever since. Almost no one sings like Elvis Presley anymore. Hundreds try to sing like Dylan. When Sam Cooke played Dylan for the young Bobby Womack, Womack said he didn’t understand it. Cooke explained that from now on, it’s not going to be about how pretty the voice is. It’s going to be about believing that the voice is telling the truth.”
2. Theme Time Radio Hour with Bob Dylan, Season One, Episode 31, “Tennessee” theme, which originally aired on XM radio on Nov. 29, 2006 featured Sam Cooke’s version of the song “Tennessee Waltz” among Dylan’s eclectic playlist.
3. Bob Dylan and his band performed what would become Cooke’s most inspiring and popular songs following his early death, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York, for the eventual TV special Apollo At 70: A Hot Night In Harlem. Celebrating the theater’s 70th anniversary, the show aired on NBC on June 19, 2004. Watch Ossie Davis talk about Cooke and introduce Dylan at the show, followed by Dylan’s performance:
4. An NPR story from December 2007, entitled “Sam Cooke’s Swan Song of Protest,” says: ”In 1963, having already scored many hits in the secular pop marketplace, Sam Cooke first heard Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Amid the civil rights movement, Cooke was inspired to create his own protest song, according to Peter Guralnick, Cooke’s biographer.
As a black singer from the South, racial segregation affected Cooke personally. In October 1963, he was arrested and thrown in jail after refusing to be turned away from a Shreveport, La., hotel which had initially accepted his reservation. In December 1963, Cooke recorded “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Though Cooke didn’t live to see its success and reception, “A Change Is Gonna Come” cemented his reputation as a soul-music legend. The song was covered hundreds of times, including by Aretha Franklin.
“He was one of the greatest male singers of all time,” Franklin says. “You put him in the category with Caruso and Pavarotti and these other great names. Sam Cooke, bar none, was one of the greatest singers of all time.”
Listen to a 10-minute podcast of this story here.
5. Finally, read a July 1963 edition of Billboard magazine, featuring Sam Cooke’s Atlantic City itinerary at Club Harlem July 11-17. The following summer, he was back for two weeks.