Born, Sam Cook (with no"e") on January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, he was one of eight sons of a Baptist minister and a featured vocalist in his church choir throughout his childhood, additionally teaming with three of his siblings in a quartet dubbed the Soul Children. As a teen, Sam became a member of the gospel group the Highway QCs, performing in churches and auditoriums across the nation. In 1950, he joined the Soul Stirrers, recording and touring with the group for close to six years and achieving a significant level of success within the gospel community on the strength of lead vocals on efforts including "Nearer to Thee" and "Touch the Hem of His Garment."
In 1956 he made his secular pop debut with the single "Lovable", recorded under the alias Dale Cooke in an attempt not to alienate his gospel fan base; however, when Art Rupe, the owner Soul Stirrers' label, Specialty, objected to producer "Bumps" Blackwell's plans for a follow-up effort, Cooke was released from his contract. Upon signing to the tiny Keen label, he resurfaced in 1957 under his own name with the self-penned "You Send Me," a majestic soul confection which sold some two million copies and made him a star.
A series of hits -- most of them light romantic ballads and novelty tunes, followed over the next two years, most notably the Top 40 hits "Wonderful World," "Only Sixteen" and "Everybody Likes to Cha Cha."
As the 1960s dawned, Cooke began taking an active interest in the music business, founding his own independent label, SAR. At the same time, he left Keen to sign with RCA. Upon his arrival at the label, Cooke's music adopted a grittier, more gospel-influenced feel; his RCA debut, a reworking of "Chain Gang," became his biggest hit in some time, peaking at the number two position in 1960.
At RCA, Cooke's gifts reached their full potential as he reeled off a string of early 1960s hits ranging from the bluesy "Sad Mood" to the gospel-pop of "Bring It on Home to Me," through to the smooth soul of "Another Saturday Night" and the buoyant R&B of "Twisting the Night Away." While remaining primarily a singles artist, in 1963 he issued the superb "Night Beat", a moody, intimate collection steeped heavily in the blues; unlike most pop albums of the era, which fleshed out a couple of hits with an abundance of filler, Night Beat was a complete and ambitious artistic statement, comprised purely of prime material.
At the peak of his career, Sam Cooke was shot and killed. The circumstances surrounding his tragic death on December 11, 1964 remain hazy. According to initial reports, he was shot three times by 55 year old Bertha Franklin, the manager of Los Angeles' Hacienda Motel, who claimed she acted in self-defence. The shooting was ruled a justifiable homicide. Sam Cooke was one month shy of his 34th birthday.
In subsequent years it has been rumoured that a number of crucial details surrounding the case were buried in deference to Cooke's wife and children, who wished to avoid any further publicity and scrutiny; decades later, a satisfactory resolution to the matter has yet to be reached. At Sam's funeral, about 200,000 fans showed up to pay their respects. Lou Rawls, Ray Charles, and Bobby "Blue" Bland all performed at the service. He was buried in Glendale, California at Forest Lawn Memorial Park.
Even given the scandalous circumstances of his death, Cooke remained a major presence. "At the Copa", a triumphant live set recorded at the elite New York club, was released during the month of his passing, and the single "Shake" reached the Top Ten a few weeks later. "A Change Is Gonna Come," another posthumous 1965 smash, was his true epitaph -- a thoughtful, spiritually charged assessment of the then-current state of American race relations, it presaged the ascendant civil rights movement with remarkable clarity. In the years following his murder, Cooke's stature continued to grow and reissues and unreleased material have appeared regularly. In 1986, he was named a charter inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (info edited from classicbands.com)