For me, there is literally no better singer than Sam Cooke. His voice is magic, truly.
The Two Killings of Sam Cooke was released on Netflix yesterday, and is worth your time— what happened to him was horrific, truly. More than 50 years ago, he was unceremoniously murdered in a seedy motel in Los Angeles, under suspicious circumstances, which were quickly written off as justifiable homicide. The doc mourns his loss of life, and his loss of career—thus the title, because there was so much more to give on both fronts.
The doc is excellent, devastating, and infuriating, even if you’re prepared for how his story ends. Short and brutally. The film dives in to Sam’s unrelenting civil rights fight, and his belief that there has to be a better life in America for him, and people who look like him. There’s a riveting anecdote in the doc that after Jesse Belvin was murdered, a promising young singer who shared a bill with Cooke, Cooke refused to play for a segregated audience in Memphis. So he sat alone, in the Hotel Lorraine, for the duration of the show, after the other performers, who had agreed to a boycott eventually went on to perform. Unsure if a mob would come after him later to teach him a lesson. The Hotel Lorraine would be where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr would be assassinated just 8 years later.
There is a think piece, somewhere in all of this, between our culture’s mindless devouring of docs about serial killers—mediocre white men who destroy, and the relative lack of fanfare surrounding the release of this documentary—the story of an extraordinary black man who created. Sam was a visionary and a groundbreaker—and his music (which he wrote the vast majority of) 50 years on, still feels fresh and current in 2019. It’s time his story is told, and I urge you to watch the doc if you’re a fan, or if you’re even remotely curious about Sam’s story or his music.
I love Sam Cooke—and for the majority of my adult life, it is a rare day that I haven’t put on at least one of his songs (ok, albums.) He’s the best—you feel whatever it is he’s trying to say to you, deep in your bones. So in honor of the documentary coming out, and just because your day is better when Sam Cooke is played, here are some of Sam’s best.
Bring it On Home to Me - Live at Harlem Square
“A Change is Gonna Come” may be Sam’s best song, but this is my favorite. Hearing it live makes it even better.
A Change is Gonna Come
Nothing Can Change This Love
Twistin’ the Night Away
I’ll Come Running Back to You
Jesus Gave Me Water (With the Soul Stirrers)
Sam started as a soul singer, and regardless of your religious affiliation, his gospel music is worth your time, too
It’s All Right/ For Sentimental Reasons - Live at Harlem Square
Header Image Source: RCA Records