The life and music of Sam Cooke, soul’s first superstar, are examined in Sam Cooke: Legend, the Grammy® Award winning feature documentary from ABKCO Films, now streaming on Amazon Prime. The 66-minute film examines the extraordinary career and tells the real story of his life through accounts from family, childhood friends, musical collaborators and business associates along with Sam Cooke himself. It traces both his professional and personal life – from his gospel-singing roots in the early 1950’s through his R&B and pop music career to his untimely death in 1964. The film recounts his commitment to the struggle for civil rights underscored by his last and most enduring hit song, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” and highlights his transcendent and consummate popular appeal.
Sam Cooke: Legend includes on-screen commentary from Aretha Franklin who shares an intimate recollection from her youth as well as from Lou Rawls whose voice is heard in counterpoint to Cooke’s on “Bring It On Home To Me.” Immediate family members including brother L.C. Cooke and daughter Zeriiya Zekkariyas offer insight into the man who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the institution’s inception while Andrew Loog Oldham, Rolling Stones’ original manager, acknowledges the moment Cooke’s tour of the UK left a generation of young musicians like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison and Rod Stewart enthralled as well. Also seen is Bobby Womack who, early in his career, enjoyed a rewarding musical relationship with Cooke who produced his hit “It’s All Over Now,” later covered by The Rolling Stones a story referenced in One Night In Miami. Cooke’s gospel roots are discussed by LeRoy Crume of the Soul Stirrers, the seminal group that Cooke joined as a teen.
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Sam Cooke: Legend includes newsreel footage of the newly-crowned champ spotting Sam Cooke in the crowd and inviting him into the ring exclaiming, “Let that man up! This is Sam Cooke! This is the world’s greatest rock ‘n’ roll singer!” That same frantic and jubilant scenario is depicted in the film One Night In Miami.
Born January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi and raised in Chicago’s South Side, Sam Cooke was the son of a Baptist minister. He started singing in the Church choir as a child and, encouraged by his father, joined with his siblings to form a gospel group, the Singing Children. By the time he was a teenager, he had achieved significant success within the gospel community on the strength of his distinctive vocal style, and in 1950 he was asked to replace legendary singer R.H. Harris as lead vocalist of The Soul Stirrers.
Cooke crossed over into the world of popular music in 1957 and shot to the top of the R&B and Pop charts with his self-penned “You Send Me.” From that time on, he was never out of the Top 40, with smash hits like “Wonderful World,” “Chain Gang,” “Cupid,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Another Saturday Night” and “Shake.” His success didn’t surprise Aretha Franklin, who had long before seen him perform at her father’s church.
“Sam was a prince of a man. He just had everything going for him. Sam had the looks, he had the voice, he had the manner, he had the charm, he had the savoir faire.”
A champion of creative rights who wrote much of his own material, Cooke was among the first artists to recognize the importance of owning the publishing rights to his own compositions, and later established his own record label and business empire to better realize his far-reaching musical ambitions.
Refusing to perform for segregated audiences in the South, Cooke utilized his stature as a performer to help break down the color lines separating blacks from whites, and in the process became, along with his friend Muhammad Ali, a symbol of the new Black American. Legend also offers personal insight into Cooke’s songwriting process as the singer/songwriter confides to Dick Clark.
““If you observe what’s going on and try to figure out how people are thinking, determine the times of your day, I think you can always write something that the people will understand.”
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Further inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” Cooke wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a song that would become an anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement. It is as relevant today as it was back in 1964. “A Change is Gonna Come” was performed at the Obama inauguration on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and is a beacon of hope in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Cooke’s death in 1964 at the young age of 33 years old, robbed the world of ever knowing what Cooke would have done next, how he would of changed music and the world. Although decades have passed since then, interest in his life and work is stronger today than ever before. Sam Cooke: Legend is a comprehensive look at a figure who is, arguably, one of the most influential musical forces of the twentieth century and whose legacy resonates to the present day.
Sam Cooke: Legend was written by best-selling author Peter Guralnick whose Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, is widely recognized as the definitive biography of the musical giant. The documentary is narrated by Tony Award winning actor Jeffrey Wright (“Basquait,” “Angels In America,” “Ali”) and was directed by Mary Wharton and produced by Mary Wharton, Robin Klein and Mick Gochanour.
The film was awarded a Grammy in 2004 in the Best Long Form Video (since renamed Best Music Film) Initially category. released on DVD, it has never been available for years and has never before been offered on a streaming platform. Its availability via Amazon Prime marks the music icon’s 90th birthday (b. January 22, 1931) and was catalyzed by last week’s Prime release of One Night In Miami, the new film directed by Regina King in which Grammy and Tony winner Leslie Odom Jr. portrays Sam Cooke. One Night In Miami follows a young Cassius Clay (Eli Goree), shortly before he became Muhammad Ali, as he emerges from the Miami Beach Convention Center as the new World Heavyweight Boxing Champion after which he spends the remainder of the evening of February 25 1964 in the company of Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), NFL great Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Sam Cooke.