Samuel Cook, known professionally as Sam Cooke, was an American gospel, R&B, soul, and pop singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. He is considered to be one of the pioneers and founders of soul music. He is commonly known as The King of Soul for his unmatched vocal abilities and impact and influence on the modern world of music. His contribution in pioneering Soul music led to the rise of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and popularizing the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown. Cooke is widely recognized as a strong influence on Rod Stewart, including by Rod himself.
Cooke had 29 top-40 hits in the U.S. between 1957 and 1964. Major hits like “You Send Me”, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, “Chain Gang”, “Wonderful World”, and “Bring It on Home to Me” are some of his most popular songs. Cooke was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the American Civil Rights Movement.
On December 11, 1964, Cooke was shot dead by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California at the age of 33. At the time, the courts ruled that Cooke was drunk and distressed, and the manager killed Cooke in what was later ruled a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been widely questioned.
Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He later added an “e” onto the end of his name, though the reason for this is disputed. He was one of eight children of Annie Mae and the Reverend Charles Cook, a Baptist minister. He had a brother, L.C., who some years later would become a member of the Doo Wop band Johnny Keyes and the Magnificents. The family moved to Chicago in 1933. Cooke attended Wendell Phillips Academy High School in Chicago, the same school that Nat “King” Cole had attended a few years earlier.