Many Current listeners have probably heard my song “Lady, You Shot Me.” It’s the first song I wrote for my 2013 album Bye Bye 17 and it was born out of my obsession with Sam Cooke. A few years ago I was on tour with GAYNGS, and a bunch of us had gone on a bender of all things Mr. Cooke. Hundreds of listens and a couple of documentaries later I was haunted by the man’s alleged dying words, “Lady, you shot me.” The words equally summed up my audacity at how coldly a woman had treated me, the sadness I was in for, and how cool you could sound just before the lights go out. The song wrote itself in my mind.
Sam Cooke has been a guiding force in my artistic development for my entire life. Even before I knew he was the man behind songs like “Cupid” and “(What A) Wonderful World” I was singing along to every word as a child listening to oldies radio. Throughout my younger years I got more and more obsessed with his ability to write melodically easy-going pop songs that gave way to a less obvious, darker lyrical pain. His songs were onions I wanted to peel.
I respect Cooke both for his amazing, undeniable voice and his firm vision. As one of the first modern black performers to guide the business side of his career as well as the artistic, he inspired so many. He eventually founded his own record label and publishing company, which was a bold move in the 60s. He was very active in the Civil Rights Movement and rightfully harbored a lot of anger towards the white establishment and their history of unfair, horrible treatment of African-Americans. “A Change is Gonna Come” is a perfect example of how he could transform his private incensed pain into beautifully inspired high-road exaltation. I cry every time I hear it.
There has been a lot of speculation as to what actually happened that fateful night on December 11, 1964 at the Hacienda Motel. Whatever the troubled circumstances were, the fact is that Bertha Franklin pierced Sam Cooke’s pained heart with a bullet when the great performer was still at the young age of 33, and the world lost one of the greatest artists it ever produced. I often think of how much more great work Mr. Cooke would have gone on to make had he got the chance to live on, and I know he’d be proud of the strides people of all races have made to make a better world for each other. A change definitely came.
This week, The Current celebrates Sam Cooke in honor of Black History Month. Listen for Cooke’s music throughout the week.