Before his untimely death in 1964 at the age of 33, Sam Cooke released his final album, Ain’t That Good News, which included a song that still reverberates in the present day nearly 60 years later. Added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2006, “A Change Is Gonna Come” was Cooke’s protest song for the ongoing civil right movement and just one piece of his continuously expanding book of songs.
Born Samuel Cook on Jan. 22, 1931, in Clarksdale, Mississippi—later adding on the “e” to his surname to signify a new beginning—as a teen Cooke started performing as a gospel singer, first forming The Singing Children with brothers L.C. and Charles and sisters Mary and Hattie, and later broke into songwriting and producing with The Soul Stirrers in 1951 on Specialty Records. After leaving the group, Cooke signed with Keen Records in 1957 and went on to write and record the No. 1 hit “You Send Me,” along with “Only Sixteen” and “Wonderful World,” “Win Your Love For Me,” and “Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha.”
By 1960, he joined RCA Records and continued to write and record hits like “Twisting The Night Away,” “Bring It On Home To Me,” “Chain Gang,” “Cupid,” and “Having A Party” before forming SAR Records in 1961, making him the first black artist to own his own record label.
Though he left the music too soon, releasing 11 albums and producing and writing for a collection of artists under SAR Records, Cooke’s legacy continues with songs covered by everyone from Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, The Band, Al Green, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul McCartney, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, The Rolling Stones, Nina Simone, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, and Cat Stevens, among many others.
Here are five songs Cooke wrote during his time for other artists.
1. “I’m Alright,” Little Anthony and the Imperials (1959)
Written by Sam Cooke and Jerome Anthony “Little Anthony” Gourdine
First released by the New York City rhythm and blues and soul group Little Anthony and The Imperials in 1959 for their album Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko-Ko-Bop, “I’m Alright” was written by Cooke and Little Anthony. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 4, 2009, and continues to perform to date along with original members Little Anthony and Ernest Wright.
2. “Dance What You Wanna,” Clifton White (1962)
Written by Sam Cooke, Clifton White, and J.W. Alexander
In 1962, Clifton White, a bandleader and guitarist for Sam Cooke, released “Dance What You Wanna.” The song was later covered by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles in 1963 and then by Little Richard and later released on his 1971 compilation Mr. Big.
3. “Take Me For What I Am,” L.C. Cooke, (1963)
Written by Sam Cooke
Starting out in his sibling’s group The Singing Children, L.C. later broke out on his own in gospel and doo-wop before getting signed to his brother Sam’s SAR label, where he released a number of singles and recorded what should have been his first full-length album before his brother’s death in 1964 and which led to the label folding. Under SAR, Sam Cooke produced L.C. and was his principal songwriter, giving his brother a number of songs, including “Take Me For What I Am.”
“Sam had that canny thing about him, where he could just look at you and say, ‘I’m going to write something that fits you,’” remembered L.C., who also recorded his brother’s song “Put Me Down Easy,” one Sam initially wrote for himself. “I said, ‘That’s my song, Sam,'” said L.C. of the latter track. “So he laughed and said, ‘Oh, you’re going to take it just like that, huh?’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’m taking it.’”
L.C. finally released “Take Me For What I Am” and “Put Me Down Easy” on his first-ever album, L.C. Cooke: The Complete SAR Recordings, in 2014, released several years before his death in 2017 at the age of 84.
4. “When a Boy Falls in Love,” Mel Carter (1963)
Written by Sam Cooke and Clint Lavert
At age 16, Mel Carter studied singing with Little Jimmy Scott and by the early1960s was signed to Cooke’s SAR label, where he had his first hit at the age of 24 with “When a Boy Falls in Love.” Produced by Sam Cooke and J.W. Alexander, “When a Boy Falls in Love,” remained at the top of the pop charts for several weeks. He also performed the song on American Bandstand on Dec. 26, 1964. Carter later went into acting, starring in TV series like Magnum, P.I., Sanford and Son, Marcus Welby, M.D., and more.
5. “Meet Me at the Twistin’ Place,” Johnnie Morisette (1962)
Written by Sam Cooke
Known as “Johnny Two-Voice,” Alabama-born gospel singer Johnnie Morisette made his first recordings for Dootone in 1955 before joining SAR in the ’60s. His single “Meet Me at the Twistin’ Place,” was released in 1962, and later on Morisette’s Back ‘dare! in 2009, which included a collection of earlier songs. Sam Cooke later recorded a similar song, “Meet Me at Mary’s Place” on his 11th and final album, Ain’t That Good News, in 1964.
Photo: Courtesy of Legacy Recordings