The storefront churches of a mid-40’s South Chicago would shake on Sundays, as a young Sam Cooke and his fellow gospel singers brought congregation after congregation to their feet. But whilst those in the audience may have recognised his velvet-smooth voice and his knack for melody, few could have predicted his rise to becoming the ‘King of Soul’ and one of the most influential artists of all time.
Born one of eight children to a Baptist minister and his wife, Cooke was singing in church from a very young age, and by the age of 19 had joined ‘The Soul Stirrers’ – the number one gospel group in the country. Women flocked to the front of venues along the ‘gospel highway’ to get a glimpse of the handsome teenager, but Cooke was destined for a far larger audience, and so came his controversial transition to pop music.
‘You Send Me’, the first release under his own name, sold almost 2 million copies and was the beginning of his mass appeal. It was an innovative soul record that combined elements of pop, R&B and gospel. From there, Cooke went on to release a catalogue of chart-topping songs and tour relentlessly, playing at some of the country’s most prestigious venues.
Cooke’s career was tragically cut short at the age of 32. However he left behind a lasting legacy and an ocean of soul music.
His music, shaped by the tensions and tragedies which he observed, resonated with black and white audiences alike. ‘A Change Is Gonna Come,’ the timeless epic for which he is often remembered by, best encapsulates Cooke’s universal message of hope. And to this day it remains the soundtrack to the civil rights movement, being played recently at the inaugural celebration of America’s first black President.
Songs & Times of Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come will see Aria-award winning performer Gary Pinto celebrate the music of Cooke’s remarkable life. Accompanied by the 6-piece band The Champions of Soul, the performance will feature Cooke’s best-known hits and will take audience members on a journey of music, history and culture.
For Pinto, Cooke has been an ever-present source of influence and inspiration. ‘His vocal freedom, tuneful melodies and exquisite musical choices remain unmatched. Everything about him was so easy but so intrinsically beautiful.’
Pinto too spoke of his excitement in retuning to a familiar venue. Accompanying Guy Sebastian on stage at the Frankston Arts Centre last year, and performing at the 2019 launch, he is back in familiar territory. ‘It’s a great room, with great facilities and a great crowd, and we can’t wait to fill the space with raw soul music.’
Songs & Times of Sam Cooke – A Change Is Gonna Come will be showing at Frankston Arts Centre on Saturday 23 February.
Tickets on sale at ‘www.artscentre.frankston.vic.gov.au’
By Tom McEncroe RPP FM