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The Case for Sam Cooke, Soul Pioneer

Sam Cooke, turning the tables at a photo shoot in the early 1960s.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Sam Cooke, turning the tables at a photo shoot in the early 1960s.
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Detail from the cover of Peter Guralnick's Dream Boogie.
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Detail from the cover of Peter Guralnick's Dream Boogie.

One of the sweetest voices in American pop music emerged from a gospel group named the Soul Stirrers. Within a year, Sam Cooke, the owner of that voice, had released the lilting ballad "You Send Me," beginning his uncomfortable, yet unstoppable, climb to fame.

The story of how Cooke became a musical success story -- and how that story often took tragic turns -- is the subject of a new book by music historian Peter Guralnick, Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke.

In his account, Guralnick details how Cooke struggled against a music industry that often devalued black artists -- even as he laid the foundations of modern soul music.

As he navigated copyright and contractual issues -- which often tangled the careers of fellow singers, like Jimmy Scott -- Cook acquired his own record label, a music publishing company, and worked in both production and management.

But his cultural influence can hardly be overstated. From the infectious "Another Saturday Night" and "Twistin' the Night Away" to the anthemic "A Change Is Gonna Come," Cooke's impact on American popular music is lasting. His singing style has been connected to everyone from Otis Redding to Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.

Dream Boogie also details the personal problems Cooke faced, and his surprising death. At just 33 years old, he died after being shot three times by a hotel manager. Cooke reportedly had been chasing a young woman who had stolen his wallet and clothes while he was in the shower.

Previously, Guralnick wrote several books examining the history of a broad range of music, from blues to country to rock and soul. The writer's epic biography of Elvis Presley, published in two installments and totaling over 1,000 pages, is considered the definitive account of the singer's life.

This interview originally aired on Feb. 1, 2006.

Copyright 2006 XPN

David Dye is a longtime Philadelphia radio personality whose music enthusiasm has captivated listeners of World Cafe® since 1991. World Cafe is produced by WXPN, the public radio service of the University of Pennsylvania.