Sam Cooke is considered a code name in black music. Called by many, “the king of soul” was a determining figure in this genre. Between 1957 and 1965 he achieved more than 30 hits, such as Chain Gang, Another Saturday Night, Bring it on Home to Me or A Change Is Gonna Come. The musician born in 1931 was a person appreciated by the black community and an activist for civil rights. He was the first African-American singer to have his own record label.
Therefore, the news of his murder caused a stir. It all happened on December 11, 1964: Sam Cooke was at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles with a woman whom he had met in a bar a few minutes ago. At one point, the woman left the room taking most of her and Cooke’s clothes with her. The singer came out after her trying to hold her and, when the hotel receptionist saw him, he shot her with a pistol. Bertha Franklin, receptionist, stated that the shooting was in self-defense and the murder was treated as a justifiable homicide. Franklin was released.
That was the official version. However, there are aspects of the story that continue to generate controversy, more than 55 years later. Elisa Boyer, the woman who was with Cooke that night, testified to authorities that Cooke had tried to abuse her, and feeling cornered, fled the room with Cooke’s clothes. However, there are several inconsistencies in his story and others claim that he ran off with the intention of robbing Cooke.
Singer Etta James saw Cooke’s body before it was cremated and claimed that it showed signs of having been severely beaten. One theory suggests that his manager Allen Klein, with whom Cooke was in a dispute, had something to do with the crime.. Klein owned Tracey ltd, which owned the rights to all of Cooke’s recordings.
After the death of the musician, Klein was left with the rights to 2 very lucrative songs: Twistin ‘the Night Away and Wonderful World. Klein passed away in 2009. According to the documentary ‘Lady You Shot Me: The Life and Death of Sam Cooke’, the artist’s family has not received royalties for his music.
Another theory suggests that the musician was becoming a “dangerous” figure for the establishment at that time., for his friendship with activists against racial discrimination, such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King (both murdered) or Muhammad Ali. Cooke’s label has been interpreted as an effort to win back its business from white entrepreneurs.
Sometimes it has been criticized that the investigation was closed hastily, something that could have left relevant details to clarify the crime. “If Cooke had been Frank Sinatra, The Beatles or Ricky Nelson, the FBI would be investigating,” Ali once declared.
The song A Change is Gonna Come, inspired by a case of discrimination suffered by Cooke himself, became an anthem, and is considered one of his best compositions. Although Cooke still had a lot to say and sing about, his mark on music will be difficult to erase.