BELIZE CITY, Wed. Apr. 22, 2020– Well, not really. At least, enough of them did; as well as some voices in the media, especially the Jim Crow mouthpieces. The result was that the masses of heartbroken black fans, as well as many young white ones, did not feel empowered or justified in vociferously blaming the right forces for the calculated murder of their icon, the one Sam Cooke. They were both embarrassed and disarmed by the official storyline – what more embarrassing than to be caught literally “with your pants down”? What more humiliating caricature could you compose to disfigure and smear the image and persona of an artist so adored and beloved by fans across racial lines, as well as being absolutely idolized by his followers and friends in the black community, who saw him as someone special, a talent so enormous and disarming, that many of his contemporaries compared him to some sort of revolutionary trailblazer, that was using his God given talent, infectious charm and business acumen, to lead his exploited and victimized fellow artists to the promised land of artistic freedom, copyright ownership and economic independence, that he himself had already begun to achieve? Instead, “colored folks” took it on the chin, and went about the painful process of grief and mourning, with confused and tangled emotions, mostly of heartbreak and sadness, but also for some a pang of anger at the man Sam Cooke for “letting us down,” or at least for being careless in the face of white power and racism, who he should have known was out to “get him.” For indeed, not only was the body of Sam Cooke killed on December 11, 1964, but his public image was brutally tarnished by the manner in which his death was presented to the helpless and distraught masses of black people. Many of the religious, forgiving as they were of his transgressions and “descent” into the “devil’s” world of popular music, were still overwhelmed with grief at his sudden passing. But, there was always a lingering “but” in some of their hushed undertones: Was it because he didn’t “follow Jesus,” but went the way of the world? In their self-righteousness, many forget that Jesus Himself was a revolutionary and a rebel against the system of injustice and exploitation being endured by his Jewish people at the time; but His method was peace; and likewise, there was not a violent bone, all talent, dignity and charm, but along with a fighter’s heart, in the personality of Sam Cooke.
What worse tale can you devise to destroy a man’s reputation? Rapist! Whoremonger! Violent bully! Old lady beater!
Imagine they spin that tale on you, bro; how would you feel? But, like Peter, you hasten to deny your brother Sam each time you eagerly swallow a mouthful of that bullshit story that makes absolutely no sense. Come on, bro! A would-be rapist, taking a shower, while the would-be rapee is left alone on a bed with his pants, not tied up or drugged or anything? Insane! And whose joint, whose stomping grounds was this motel? Not Sam’s; the hotel manager didn’t even know him (so she claimed), although he signed in under his real name, Sam Cooke. Who didn’t know that name in 1964? Come on, brothers and sisters! Don’t buy this bullshit story about me! You know me better than that!!
It was a cruel and masterful deed, with Jim Crow spreading fear and bewilderment through an emotionally disoriented community; and no doubt why the Netflix documentary is so aptly titled: The Two Killings of Sam Cooke. They (whoever did it) killed his body; then they killed his image and legacy; at least that is what the official storyline did for some.
The daring and risk-filled leap that Sam Cooke made from the restricted and limited gospel music route to the wide open field of “pop” music was enough to break down the musical walls of prejudice and religious restriction, that would inevitably allow a torrent of other black gospel artists to come cascading through into the newly realized “wonderful world” of “soul” music, which spawned a tidal wave of new stars amidst the highly-charged political climate of the 1960s, a decade of change.
But it seemed to all happen so quickly; and the music industry was so eager and efficient in grabbing onto and marketing the many bright new talents that hit the scene; and the sudden shock of his passing so painful and immersed in so much controversy and shame, that the one who had played such a pivotal and revolutionary role in realizing this change, the one Sam Cooke, was soon forgotten.
We Belize (British Honduras then) youngsters of the 60s who idolized the “Immortal” Otis Redding, and argued who was the King of Soul, Otis or Percy Sledge, or Brother Ray, or James Brown, we were so displaced from the realities and the legacy of their forebears, that we didn’t even know anything about the story of Sam Cooke, or that he was actually Otis’ idol. Like Jordan was to Koby, so was Sam to Otis. Indeed, quite a number of songs on Otis’ epic “Dictionary of Soul” album were songs composed and first recorded by Sam Cooke…
But, how did I get here? Yes, Sam Cooke was my childhood idol, ever since my eldest brother, Evan X Hyde brought two of his albums home to us in Belize when he returned on holiday with a broken leg from Dartmouth University in 1967. And there is now time to be browsing YouTube during this COVID-19 stay-at-home lock down. But I should be writing about sports for Amandala.
Well, I confess, I got sidetracked. Running through the names I recalled from my football years in the 1970s, there was one brother from the George Street area that we called “Sam Cooke.” I never knew his real name (I was recently told his name is Windell Belgrave), but friends had told me the name stuck on him, because he was such a big fan of Sam Cooke’s music. Though his music was hardly played much on Radio Belize at the time, there were Juke Boxes in clubs, and a record shop on George Street (Hyde’s Record Shop, the home base of the one Elden “Stone Jam” Hyde). So, I guess this brother was smitten by the Sam Cooke sound. When I added his nickname to the list of players, the Sam Cooke name brought back my own childhood memories, of singing all day, and trying to sound like Sam Cooke. I knew “by heart” all the songs on his “Try A Little Love” album.
Well, YouTube did the rest for me.
We just watched the first two episodes of “The Last Dance;” and the great Michael Jordan is still around to talk about it. There have been so many wonderful documentaries of legendary sports stars and musical icons. But it’s amazing that, to this day, there is still not a documentary celebrating the life of the one whom his friend Muhammad Ali called the Greatest Singer of All Time, the one Sam Cooke. His murder mired in controversy, his musical empire stolen, and his image studiously tarnished and smeared by the Jim Crow system of 1964, it is now 2020, and still the “powers that be” have so saturated the artistic and political climate with their intimidating stance, that it seems we will still have to wait another generation until the time is right for the information barrier to be broken down, and the full documentary story to be told of one of the most impactful persons of the music industry for black people in America in the 20th century. Indeed, for the times, Sam Cooke was too “black,” too “pretty,” too smart, too talented, too unselfish, too ambitious, and too bold in the face of white supremacy. So they killed him, twice; and their third time, I suspect, is keeping their boots on the neck of any would-be movie documentary producer that would dare to present the full, brilliant and glorious life story of the one and only Sam Cooke.
(updated Thurs. May 14, 2020)
Well, what do you know? Yesterday, I came across some notes about a full hour-long PBS documentary, “Crossing Over,” on the sensational music career of Sam Cooke. The narrator is the renowned actor, Danny Glover. Have you seen it yet? Neither have I. It seems this documentary was never allowed to be on national television. You see what I am telling you?
Here is what pbs.org says about the film:
“In 1958, when Sam Cooke crossed over from gospel to ‘the devil’s music,’ he set in motion a chain of events that altered the course of popular music and race relations in America. Sam Cooke: Crossing Over examines Cooke’s musical and political significance during the early civil rights movement and unravels some of the myths surrounding his life and death, revealing a complex portrait of a flawed but talented man.”
And a preview of the airing on Monday, January 11, 2020, on American Masters Film stated:
“Sam Cooke accomplished what no other black performer had ever even attempted, founding his own music publishing and record label, opening doors for and writing material for other artists – mentoring Aretha Franklin and launching Otis Redding. He had the courage to take an open stand against racism, refusing to perform at a segregated venue in the south and garnering the support of Dick Clark. But, his story ends abruptly at the height of his success when, at the age of 32 in 1964, he was, inexplicably, gunned down and killed in the company of a prostitute – leaving a profound legacy filled with extraordinary talent – and all the questions about what might have been.”
Unfortunately, it seems the documentary film is no longer available. Wish we could somehow get it shown on Krem.