Sam Cooke was a musical genius.
This year, the singer, songwriter and entrepreneur was pushed back into the limelight almost 56 years after his death, thanks to the inclusion of his legacy in the Dakota Johnson movie The High Note.
The 2019 documentary Lady You Shot Me: Life and Death of Sam Cooke also sparked renewed interest in his life and times. But given his death was shrouded in mystery and his personal life equally scandalous, it’s no wonder people are still fascinated.
Let’s take a look at what happened to the legendary musician.
What was Sam Cooke famous for?
Sam Cooke was a famous gospel and pop singer in the late ’50s and early ’60s, which at the time was rare for an artist to experience success in two different musical genres.
Cooke was known for his smooth vocals that saw him churn out hit after hit, including ‘Twistin’ the Night Away’, ‘Wonderful World’ and ‘You Send Me’, his first number one that toppled Elvis Presley’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ from the top of the charts in 1957. Overall, Cooke had 29 of his songs make the Billboard Top 40 charts during his eight-year career.
But Cooke was not only a talented singer and songwriter, he had business smarts. He didn’t just sign a recording contract — Cooke wanted to own the rights to his music. So in 1959, he established his own publishing company, Kags Music, and then in 1961 founded his own label, SAR Records — a feat that was unheard at the time given he was a Black man. In fact, he was the first-ever Black singer to manage his own record company.
The music mogul was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, 22 years after his death. In 1999, Cooke received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.
How did Sam Cooke die?
Sam Cooke died under mysterious circumstances in the early hours of December 11, 1964. He was only 33 years old.
According to reports, he had been out drinking at a Los Angeles bar before retreating to the Hacienda Motel with Elisa Boyer, a woman he had met at the bar. It’s been alleged an altercation occurred inside Cooke’s motel room before Boyer fled.
Boyer later testified that she wanted to go home after their night out, but that Cooke forced her into a motel room against her will. Once inside, she said she feared for her life after he allegedly pushed her onto the bed and began taking off her clothes.
She said she was able to flee when Cooke suddenly needed to use the bathroom and so she took the opportunity to run out of the motel room, taking the singer’s clothes with her.
Wearing just a sports jacket over his naked body, Cooke then ended up at the office of motel manager Bertha Franklin, where another alleged altercation took place before she shot him three times in the chest. The singer died at the scene from gunshot wounds, which Franklin claimed was fired out of self-defence.
His death was later ruled a justifiable homicide by police, but Cooke’s family and friends believe something untoward may have happened that night.
Who shot Sam Cooke and why?
In her testimony, Hacienda Motel manager Bertha Franklin claimed that Cooke had threatened her life when he stumbled into her office on December 11, 1964.
According to Franklin, she shot Cooke out of self-defence and his last words to her were, “Lady, you shot me!” — Lady You Shot Me would later be the title of a documentary investigating the circumstances around his death.
Franklin claimed Cooke lunged for her a second time after she fired three shots, so she grabbed a broom and hit him on the head, causing him to slide against a wall and die.
The Los Angeles Police Department was later dispatched to the Hacienda Motel, where they found Cooke dead on the office floor.
To this day, his death remains shrouded in mystery, with family and friends saying it was never investigated the way a murder of a big-name celebrity would be in this day and age.
What happened to Sam Cooke’s widow?
Cooke was married twice in his life.
Between 1953 and 1957, he was married to Dolores Mohawk. Two years after their divorce, she was killed in a car accident in 1959. The singer paid for her funeral, despite the fact they were already divorced.
Cooke remarried later that year to Barbara Campbell and they were together until his death in 1964. They had two daughters together: Linda, now 67, and Tracey, now 60. The couple also shared a son named Vincent, who tragically drowned in the family’s swimming pool in 1963. He was only 18 months old.
Three months after Cooke’s death, Campbell, then 31, raised eyebrows when she married his protégé Bobby Womack — the up-and-coming musician (who was 21 at the time) was signed to Cooke’s SAR Records label.
Needless to say, Cooke’s family were outraged over his widow marrying his protégé. According to reports, Cooke’s brothers cornered the couple in a Chicago hotel one evening before allegedly beating Womack. That did little to discourage the relationship, with the couple staying married until 1970.
What happened between Sam Cooke’s daughter and Barbara Campbell’s husband?
Cooke shared two daughters with Barbara Campbell: Linda and Tracey.
In Bobby Womack’s 2006 autobiography, Midnight Mover, he revealed that he would sneak out of the bedroom he shared with Campbell to enjoy a late-night tryst with her daughter Linda, who was 18 at the time.
Womack would later shed details on this period of his life in his memoir, revealing that when Campbell found out, she held a gun to his head and kicked him out of the house — but not before firing a bullet his way, which grazed his scalp.
“My wife is packing a .32 pistol. It came around the corner, followed by her,” he wrote in the book. “And she came fast. Yelling. And I mean yelling. ‘Bobby, you son of a b—h. You bastard.’ I didn’t wait for the rest. She was mad as hell.”
Following the incident, Womack and Campbell divorced. In a bizarre twist, Linda went on to marry Bobby’s brother, Cecil Womack, and together the couple formed the band Womack & Womack.
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