|Sam Cooke: Hulton Archive/Getty Images|
Sam Cooke put the spirit of the Black church into popular music, creating a new American sound and setting into motion a chain of events that forever altered the course of popular music and race relations in America. With You Send Me in 1957, Cooke became the first African American artist to reach #1 on both the R&B and the pop charts. It was risky for this young gospel performer to alienate his fans by embracing “the devil’s music” – but he proved, with his pop/gospel hybrid, that it was, indeed, possible to win over white teenage listeners and keep his faithful church followers intact.
“Before Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke already heated up the charts with his unique blend of sensuality and spirituality,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a seven-time winner of the Emmy Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. “His smooth songs and sophisticated phrasing influenced artists from Al Green to Alicia Keys. And Cooke’s legacy reaches far beyond music boundaries. Spike Lee featured ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ in his film Malcolm X and the same song inspired President Obama’s speech. Who else besides an American Master can make such claims?”
(click here to read the full synopsis and watch a preview of "Sam Cooke: Crossing Over" on the PBS.org website. Below is a YouTube video of an April, 1964 performance of Sam Cooke singing "Ain't That Good News" on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand")