The very talented Sam Cooke sang with the gospel group the Soul Stirrers before going on to a successful but brief solo career. His list of hit recordings includes “You Send Me,” “Wonderful World,” “Chain Gang,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Another Saturday Night,” and “Only Sixteen.”
Cooke had been out the night before on the morning of December 11, 1964, drinking at a Los Angeles bar where he became friendly with a woman. The two ended up at the Hacienda Motel. An altercation in their room ensued. Cooke went to the motel’s office and argued with the manager who shot and killed Cooke. The manager claimed self-defense. The case was ruled justifiable homicide. Cooke was 33. Last Friday would have been Cooke’s 90th birthday.
From the album liner notes of “Portrait of a Legend 1951–1964”:
Another of Sam’s increasingly familiar Latin numbers. This one stemmed from a Christmas 1958 party at Lou Rawls’ stepfather’s house. At one point in the evening everyone was doing the cha cha, even the little kids, and Sam was watching his five-year-old daughter, Linda, when all of a sudden one of the kids called out, “Everybody, cha cha cha!” They were all just having a good time, said J.W. Alexander, and Sam grabbed a piece of paper and set the lyrics down while everybody else was dancing. When he went into the studio the week after New Year’s, he laid it down just like that. “I think the secret is really observation,” he told Dick Clark years later about the key to all of his successful hit songs. If you observed what was going on and were in tune with “the times of your day, I think you can always write something that people will understand.”
BONUS! From my dad’s LP collection.
To close we change gears.
Last year the film One Night in Miami was released, depicting a meeting between boxing legend Muhammad Ali, civil rights leader Malcolm X, NFL legend Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. The film dramatizes the hours following Cassius Clay’s upset victory over Sonny Liston. Clay (Eli Goree) headed out with Brown (Aldis Hodge), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir) and Cooke (Leslie Odom Jr.). They went to the Hampton House Motel, a popular establishment among black visitors to Jim Crow–era Miami.