Mississippi Blues Trail Series: Sam Cooke – Clarksdale

An Article by Johnny Cole | Photos by Stephen Anderson

The Southland Music Line continues our Mississippi Blues Trails Series in Clarksdale, Mississippi at the marker recognizing the great Sam Cooke. The legendary music artist would have celebrated his 90th birthday on January 22nd of this year.

Born in 1931, Samuel Cook (later known professionally as Sam Cooke, adding the “e” to his last name in 1957 to signify a new start to his life) has been labeled by many as “The King of Soul”. During his career Cooke received a multitude of honors including two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (once as a charter member in 1986 and secondly in 1989 for his part in The Soul Stirrers), a Songwriters Hall of Fame induction in 1987, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 and a number of other posthumous accolades. Cooke’s captivating blend of gospel, blues, pop, and rhythm & blues made him a pioneer of the soul music genre, delighting millions of fans with such songs as “You Send Me”, “Only Sixteen”, “Chain Gang”, “Cupid”, ‘Twistin’ the Night Away”, “Bring It on Home to Me”, “Having a Party” and “Frankie and Johnny”. His highly inspirational “A Change Is Gonna Come”, a civil rights anthem that Cooke felt compelled to write that spoke to his struggle and of those around him, was selected in 2007 for preservation in the Library of Congress and has been covered by many artists during several monumental events in history.

Cooke’s family left Clarksdale for Chicago when he was quite young. At a very early age, this son of a minister began singing gospel music professionally with his siblings and later with the Highway QC’s. In 1950, he became the lead singer of The Soul Stirrers, a gospel music sensation that had crossover appeal with a younger audience, thanks in huge part to its charismatic lead singer.

Top two photos: The Mississippi Blues Trail marker commemorating Sam Cooke located outside the New Roxy Theatre at 363 Issaquena Avenue in the New World District of downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Between 1957 and 1964, Cooke scored 30 Top-Forty hits and following his untimely death, three more posthumously. Interestingly, Cooke was also one of the first African American recording artists to own his own record label and publishing company. Sadly, Cooke was fatally shot at a Los Angeles motel following a dispute with the manager. For a career that was cut short, Cooke’s amazing accomplishments cemented his legacy.

In 2009, Sam Cooke was commemorated with a Mississippi Blues Trail marker that is located outside the New Roxy Theatre at 363 Issaquena Avenue in the New World District of downtown Clarksdale, Mississippi.

Along with highlighting Sam Cooke, the marker also emphasizes some others to emerge from Clarksdale in the soul music genre: L.C. Cooke, the brother of Sam, who was also a singer with a Chicago based vocal group known as the Magnificents; Charles Wright, best known for his role as band leader of the group Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, which had the classic 1971 hit “Express Yourself” and Sir Mack Rice who composed “Respect Yourself” and “Mustang Sally”. The marker also mentions Otis Clay, O. B. Buchanan, David Brinston, Luther Lackey, and local favorite Josh Stewart.

Once again, it has been our pleasure to showcase another marker recognizing Mississippi’s amazing music history.

Sam Cooke’s highly inspirational civil rights anthem, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, highlighted on the marker in Clarksdale, Mississippi

Click Here for all the photos taken by Stephen Anderson for this Mississippi Blues Trail marker.

Click Here for more articles in the Mississippi Blues Trail Series at The Southland Music Line.

References:
Visit Clarksdale Official Website
Mississippi Blues Travellers Official Website
Blues Hound Flat – Mississippi Blues Trail Markers in Clarksdale, MS
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame – Sam Cooke (rockhall.com)

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Page Designed & Edited by Johnny Cole
© The Southland Music Line. 2021. All rights reserved

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