Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sam Cooke: Having a Party

I am currently watching the wonderful American Masters documentary titled Sam Cooke: Crossing Over (2010).

So much history is still unrecorded about pioneering black artists who "crossed over" into mainstream, radio pop-hit stardom. Cooke was one of the very first, achieving his first hit on the pop charts in 1957, still a very racially-incendiary time. Black artists on the mainstream charts then sounded like Johnny Mathis and Nat King Cole, not like Cooke's bluesy "You Send Me."

When Cooke performed at the Georgia State Fair, police were called in to maintain order because large integrated gatherings routinely attracted attention from racist groups like the kkk. The film clips of enthusiastic, racially-mixed southern audiences, standing up to scream and greet him, suddenly take on new significance when you keep in mind, they likely had to argue with their families for the right to be there.

The party was an act of affirmation.

Cooke's experiences made an emotional impact on him. In 1963, he joined Aretha Franklin in refusing to play for segregated audiences. When he played the Copacabana, the slicked-up patrons had never heard actual R & B before, and hardly knew what to think; they expected Sammy Davis Jr. Variety magazine wrote that Cooke "wasn't ready" for the Copa, when it's obvious it was the Copa audience that wasn't ready for him.

In late 1964, a woman named Bertha Franklin shot Sam Cooke, and nobody has ever been sure why. There is a great deal of controversy over the 'official' account of his death, which changed several times.

He had just become strongly politicized and was playing a greater role in the Civil Rights movement. Singer Etta James and others, wrote that the circumstances of his death were highly suspicious. An understatement.

When I heard "Having a Party"--I almost started to cry, it's just so beautiful.

3 comments:

JoJo said...

I had no idea that Sam Cooke was murdered! :( No one can doubt his influence on music though. Hey have you ever seen the movie "American Hotwax"? It's awesome. Alan Freed is my hero....Payola not withstanding. lol

D. said...

1. I'd wondered where that scene in Dreamgirls came from!
2. I remember hearing the announcement of his murder on the radio and being weirded out. I'm still weirded out, and I've never heard a coherent story about it.

Conseglieri said...

This is a book begging to be written, and a film begging to be made. OK...so show me how out of touch I am...no, not a documentary...a movie...fiction...about Sam Cooke? It just screams "I am a Greek tragedy...write me!"