By Mary Miller Cullins
On December 11, 1964, officers of the Los Angeles Police Department arrived at the Hacienda Motel, where they found Sam Cooke dead on the office floor, shot three times in the chest by the motel’s manager, Bertha Franklin.
The authorities ruled Cooke’s death a case of justifiable homicide, based on the testimony of of Ms. Franklin, who said that Cooke had threatened her life after attempting to assault a young woman who he had checked in with earlier that day.
Even as the lurid details of the case were becoming common knowledge, 200,000 fans turned out in the streets of L.A. and Chicago to mourn the passing of Sam Cooke. His legacy seemed to transcend the scandal surrounding his death. He built this legacy during a brief but spectacular run as a singer, songwriter, producer, and music publisher in the 1950′s and early 60′s.
Born in 1931 to a Baptist minister and his wife, Cooke’s early musical development took place at church. Like other early figures in what would eventually be called “soul” music, Cooke began his professional career singing gospel. He was given permission by his record label to begin recording secular music in 1956.
“You Send Me” was his first pop smash, and it was followed by such classics as “Chain Gang”, and “Cupid”, “Twistin The Night Away”, and the Dylan inspired posthumous release that became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement: “A Change Is Gonna Come”. His voice has been called the most important in the history of soul music, but just as important to Sam Cooke’s historical standing is the fact that he also wrote all of the above mentioned hits! A remarkable fact for any popular singer of his time.
In the years since his death, the circumstances surrounding Cooke’s shooting have been called into question by his family and others. Though the truth of that day in December of 1964 might remain uncertain, Cooke’s place in the history of music is anything but.
“It’s been a long, a long time coming
But I know a change is gonna come”