A few nights ago, I happened to catch a great program on New Hampshire Public Television, Sam Cooke - Legend. I've always been a big Sam Cooke fan. He was a soul singer just a few short years before anyone really knew what soul music was. With his smooth vocals and matinee-idol good looks, he had great crossover appeal between black and white audiences alike with hit songs like You Send Me, Cupid, What a Wonderful World, Bring It On Home to Me, Chain Gang, Twistin' the Night Away, and Another Saturday Night. Just when his career had really hit a peak, his infant son died in a swimming pool accident, and tragically, you might say he went off the deep end himself. He died at the age of 33, killed in a stupid incident at a motel.
I was aware that he had been in a vocal gospel group before he had embarked on his career in secular music. I owned a couple of the cassettes. What I didn't know was that he had already achieved wide fame in this role. The program made it clear that when he he stepped in as the lead singer for this group, known as "Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers", from 1951 until 1956, they became the biggest gospel music act in the country.
When he left to pursue a career in secular music, it caused quite a scandal and commotion among his devoted fans, in much the same way that it caused a scandal when Ray Charles started playing secular music in the gospel style too.
Normally, I don't care much for gospel music on the rare occasions when I hear it, but in the case of Sam Cooke and his backing combo, I make an exception. Sam Cooke just had the kind of voice that made you feel really good when you heard it. I loved the way he could effortlessly move up and down the scale, picking any note out of the air that he wanted to with ease. In combination with the earthier, grittier voices of his backups, it works pretty well... Here is a playlist of Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers - a musical panoply of born-again theology, with all of the substitutionary atonement you could ever want to sink your teeth into. "You ought to try my Savior, until the end..."
Sam Cooke & The Soul Stirrers
1) Must Jesus Bear This Cross Alone?
2) He's My Friend Until The End
3) Jesus Paid The Debt
4) I'm Gonna Build On That Shore
5) Jesus, I'll Never Forget
6) Peace In The Valley