The concept of Black History Month may increasingly becoming an old-fashioned one, as many barriers have been broken down by the martyrs of yesteryear. But even still, the meshing of the notion into non-segregated culture doesn’t decrease its significance one bit. When looking back in time, one has to consider that the music you enjoy and consume today had to be run through the ringer, much like the artists who created it.
A man of incredible gall, courage and talent, Sam Cooke paved the way for much of what you see of today’s recording artists. As a trendsetter, he wasn’t afraid to chase the dollar by switching from Gospel to Pop at a time when everything was considered secular, especially for the son of a preacherman. As an entrepreneur, he started a record label to not only release some of his future classics, but to nurture some of the burgeoning talent surrounding him as well. And as a musician, he helped define the soul in R&B as we know it today.
Like many musicians placed in hectic lifestyles, Sam’s demons got the best of him. From losing his infant son to bouts with depression and alcoholism, to the questionable events surrounding his death, there was still plenty of sunshine in the midst of his storms–as this excellent PBS documentary, American Masters’ Sam Cooke: Crossing Over entails. Narrated by Danny Glover and featuring insight from storied peers such as James Brown, Bobby Womack and Smokey Robinson, this biographical film is a terrific look into the life of one of the world’s most groundbreaking singers.
And with the many adversities in his life, great music was born. The Civil Rights Movement brought monumental stress to everyone involved. But if there ever was a silver lining, it was his magnum opus “A Change Is Gonna Come” triumphed through one of America’s dark hours.