A Tribute to the King of Soul
A celebration of Sam Cooke's music will be performed by Darrian Ford this weekend at the Marcus Center.
Sam Cooke was a musician that wrote some of the most recognizable songs of early soul music. In his 33 short years, he was able to create this new genre by fusing his gospel roots with mainstream R&B and pop sounds, speaking to a wide, multiracial audience. Sam Cooke influenced (and continues to influence) generations of musicians and non-musicians with his sweet but powerful soul music – one of whom is Chicago singer and actor Darrian Ford, the star of The Cooke Book, an homage to Sam Cooke on stage at the Marcus Center this weekend.
Much like Cooke, Ford grew up in Chicago surrounded by music, and the similarities don’t end there. “The most poignant similarity,” Ford said, “which occurred to me way after I created and began performing the show, was that we were both socially prescribed a music genre based on our natural singing ability and our respective environments. For Sam it was gospel, for me it was musical theater.” Ford had been involved with music theater since he was 13 years old, but wanted an outlet to express himself differently. While attending a workshop in NYC about the music of the ’50s and ’60s, Darrian discovered the jazz interpretations of Cooke’s greatest hits and was inspired by the unique take of Cooke’s pop repertoire.
Sam Cooke was born in the Mississippi Delta (birthplace of the blues), to the son of a preacher and grew up in Chicago in the 30s – his family joined the black migration north in hopes of a better education for his seven brothers and sisters. The entire family sang in the church, where Sam’s love for music began singing the traditional sacred standards of black churches. While attending high school in Chicago Heights, he formed a gospel quintet with four other schoolmates called the Highway QCs, which primarily covered music by the popular Texas gospel group the Soul Stirrers. After high school, he would end up actually joining the Soul Stirrers after one member left for a solo career. He toured with the group for six years performing thousands of shows, recording a dozen albums and making a name for himself in gospel music.
Soon after going solo in 1957 he started exploring the world of pop music and found success with his first crossover hit “You Send Me,” with help from an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. He suddenly found himself with a new, diverse audience and his popularity continued to grow.
In the next seven years he wrote and sang countless top 10 hits like “Wonderful World,” “Chain Gang,” Bring It on Home,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Another Saturday Night,” “Cupid,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and many more. These songs have become standards, covered by numerous artists over the last 50 years.
Sam Cooke was one of the first black musical entrepreneurs to take control of the business side of his music, founding his own record label (SAR Records), producing fellow musicians and spending time as a talent scout. Sam was a clever businessman and stayed constantly busy, juggling the many hats he took on in the music business.
On the night of December 11, 1964, Sam Cooke was fatally shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles. Claiming self defense, the courts ruled that it was ruled a justifiable homicide and the motel manager, Bertha Franklin was set free. The circumstances surrounding his death have been questioned for years. Many theories lead to this being a botched robbery by Franklin and Elisa Boyer, a woman he met at a party that evening. Talk about the wrong place at the wrong time.
He also took an active part in the American Civil Rights Movement. His song “A Change Is Gonna Come” was released posthumously and became an anthem for the movement. This song was inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind” and led him full circle back to his gospel roots. It’s considered by many to be Cooke’s greatest work and showed the potential of where his multifaceted career could have gone next.
Sam Cooke started as a gospel hero and ended his career as a soul heavyweight laying out the foundation for modern soul music. His legacy is everlasting and has influenced some of the greatest soul singers of our time including Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin and Smokey Robinson. His popularity helped introduce those musicians to mainstream audiences. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its inaugural year (1986) and he has been awarded with every major honor possible in the music business including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In a few short years, Sam Cooke gave himself to the world and forever changed the landscape of soul music.
Darrian Ford’s The Cooke Book – The Music of Sam Cooke will take you on a ride through Cooke’s career and have you singing along to some of the most recognizable tunes in American soul music. Don’t miss this piece of rock and roll history.
The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts will present The Cooke Book at Vogel Hall for four performances only Friday, March 22 through Sunday, March 24. On sale at the Marcus Center box office at 929 North Water Street, Downtown Milwaukee, by phone at 414-273-7206, online at MarcusCenter.org or Ticketmaster.com.