Ten Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Sam Cooke

I decided to do a little research on Sam Cooke, the groundbreaking R&B singer famous for 29 top-40 hits between 1957 and 1964 including “Cupid”, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, “You Send Me”, and “Chain Gang”. His death by shooting in 1963 was deemed a “justifiable homicide” and has since been subject to much controversy.

In (somewhat) chronological order:

  • The fifth of eight children, Cooke was born the son of a preacher, Charles Cook, in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Just down the Mississippi River from Memphis, Clarksdale was the birthplace of blues legends, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, and home to the famous crossroads which supposedly inspired Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues”.
  • Born Samuel Cook, Cooke changed his name to Sam Cooke supposedly out of superstition. He wanted a stage name with an even amount of letters.
  • Cooke was a philanderer throughout his life. At age 22, he had three pregnant girlfriends.
  • In 1963, Cooke’s 18 month-old son, Vincent, drowned in a pool after wandering away from Cooke’s wife’s supervision.
  • Cooke, agitated, drunk, and half-naked, was shot to death by Bertha Franklin, the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles.
  • Cooke’s last words were allegedly, and understandably, “Lady, you shot me.” Then, while Cooke was still alive but bleeding from a gunshot wound to the heart, Franklin beat him with a broomstick.
  • Decades after his death, there is still speculation over the truth behind the shooting. Cooke’s date on the night of his death, Elisa Boyer, claimed that Cooke tried to rape her so she fled from their motel room. Many believe, however, judging from her calm demeanor previously in the evening and her arrest one month later for prostitution, that Boyer stole Cooke’s clothes and money and fled. Cooke, enraged, then chased her to the motel office, wearing only shoes and a sports jacket, where he was shot and klled by Franklin.
  • After seeing Cooke’s body in the funeral home, Etta James wrote in her autobiography that the severity of Cooke’s injuries (she claims Cooke was beaten so badly that his head was nearly detached from his shoulders, his hands were broken and crushed and his nose was mangled) was significantly beyond that mentioned in the official account of his death.
  • Shortly after Cooke’s death, his widow, Barbara, married Bobby Womack. Cooke’s daughter, Linda, later married Bobby’s brother, Cecil.
  • At his death, Cooke was the same age as it is believed Jesus Christ was at the time of his crucifixion, 33 years old. Cooke was shot in the torso with a pistol; Jesus was stabbed in the torso with a spear. It’s interesting, that’s all I’m saying.
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