It’s hard to believe R&B crooner Sam Cooke has been gone now for over 55 years. Moreover, he would almost be a nonagenarian if he were still living. Thankfully, the pioneering contributor’s soul music lives on.
On January 20, 2020, ABKCO will launch a celebration of the upcoming 90th anniversary of Sam Cooke’s birth with the release of a 5-disc box set The Complete Keen Years (1957-1960). The set includes Keen Records’ timeless recordings like “You Send Me,” “Moonlight in Vermont,” “When I Fall In Love,” “My Foolish Heart,” and much more.
Crowned the “King of Soul” and the inventor of soul music, Cooke earned more than 20 Top 40 hits in the United States from 1957 until his tragic death in 1964 from a shooting. He was only 33. Some of the singer’s more notable hits include “Chain Gang,” his first single and a hit for RCA Victor after leaving Keen. Then there was “Bring It On Home to Me,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come,” released shortly after his death.
Born the fifth of eight children, Cooke began his professional career at 19 with the gospel group The Soul Stirrers. So, when Cooke’s debut song “You Send Me,” recorded on the Keen label, it was a groundbreaking moment in that the young gospel great now had a #1 pop record. Cooke maintained a working relationship with the Keen label for nearly three years. After the label shuttered, the original masters went missing but one fateful search in an airplane hangar yielded the precious tapes.
The Complete Keen Years (1957-1960) contains multiple bonus tracks, 65 in all, plus rare photographs, expanded session information and voluminous liner notes by writer Michael Corcoran. The first volume is comprised of songs from Cooke’s 1958 debut album for Keen. The second volume are releases from his 1958 Encore album and there’s the 1959 salute which features Cooke’s cover tributes to Billie Holiday. Songs like “God Bless the Child,” “Good Morning, Heartache,” and “I’ve Gotta Right to Sing the Blues,” can be enjoyed as only Sam Cooke could belt them out. The Hit Kit is a compilation of Cooke’s most popular songs and the fifth set, The Wonderful World of Sam Cooke, are songs from the singer’s last album for Keen.
In an essay, Michael Corcoran wrote that “Sam Cooke had a pretty voice too honest to be cute, sending the words on paper through a spiritual journey before coming out of a mouth fluent in both sorrow and triumph.”
Sam Cooke was not only a gifted singer and prolific songwriter, but he was a conscientious civil rights activist, as well. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and in 2008, Rolling Stone named Cooke the fourth “Greatest Singer of All Time.” January 22, 2021, will mark what would have been the 90th birthday of Sam Cooke; this new box set is an appropriate gift ahead of the occasion.
Photo: Sam Cooke (Wikimedia Commons)