Sam Cooke and “A Change Is Gonna Come”
In the midst of a time where black Americans were facing extreme ridicule and fighting for their rights, Sam Cooke arose from the Gospel music style and merged into the music known as Soul, a genre that spoke to the socially crumbling nation about peace and civil rights changes. Through his smooth style, velvety voice, handsome appearance, and appeal to black and white audiences alike, Sam Cooke made a difference in the lives of Americans in the 1960s by singing with pure emotion and soul, like in "A Change is Gonna Come." Through this genre’s sincere singing with lyrics full of emotion, a sense of understanding was brought to the people of America about the African-American struggle for equality.
Soul music came from Gospel roots, emerging onto the music scene around the 1950s. Because it came from Gospel and Rhythm and Blues, the term “Soul” really is what is says: the music itself contains much feeling or “soul” in the lyrics, and the actual style of music and singing reflect gospel-hymns, just with secular lyrics instead (Scaruffi). Soul allowed the sexual innuendoes of blues lyrics, and gave way to a more catchy style that caught on with the young people of America. Major elements of Soul music include a sense of call-and-response between the soloist and the chorus, improvisation in singing various vocal runs, and an almost vocal ‘moaning’ in between lines of verses and choruses. Credited with inventing Soul is Ray Charles, who initially fused the call-and-response format with the song structure and chord changes of R&B, along with the vocal styles of Gospel (Gilmore). Charles’ song, “I’ve Got a Woman,” recorded in 1955, is credited to be the first Soul song, starting a craze of Soul that would flourish through the late 1990s.
The 1960s, however, were the golden years of Soul, where the genre gave way to the fame of a few notable names like Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and Smokey Robinson. The styles of these artists and many others in the realm of Soul became very versatile, appealing to audiences black and white alike (Gilmore). This music showed America a piece of what was going on in lives of African Americans, uniting them in a sense, through music (Stephens). In 1959, Berry Gordy created the record company, “Hitsville, USA,” which would later become Motown Records. Every artist who came into this record company was African American until the late 1980s, and they all sang Soul. This record company played a vital role in the Civil Rights Movement, as many of the company’s artists were strong advocates of the movement, and they wrote their songs about it (Werner, 15).
Known as “black music” in its time, songs of Soul in the 1960s frequently paralleled the civil rights issues the blacks were having in America. It is said that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the Civil Rights Movement a vision, and the artists of Soul gave it a voice (Werner, 4). Because most, if not all, Soul artists at the time were African American, they could honestly sing about the true emotions they were feeling at the time and write songs that matched the reality black Americans were facing. Some of the songs that could have emulated the movement were “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, “Say It Loud, I’m Black and Proud” by James Brown, “Inner City Blues” by Marvin Gaye, and “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke.
Sam Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on January 22, 1931, in the midst of the Great Depression. The son of a Baptist minister, Cooke grew up singing in churches and multiple Gospel groups in the Chicago area where his family eventually moved (Bowman). In the boom of Gospel music during the time, Cooke latched onto a group known as the Soul Stirrers and became semi-famous while with the group (Gulla, 110). As a Gospel singer, Cooke was recognized to be different. He was known as the “voice of change,” having more of a pure...