Sam Cooke only lived for 33 years before he was tragically killed in 1964. But, by then, he had already left enough of an impact on music to be considered the King of Soul. After crossing over from gospel, Cooke saw a wealth of success behind hits like “Cupid,” “Wonderful World,” “Chain Gang” and, of course, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”
Much of what Cooke did in the 1950s and ’60s helped shape what R&B and soul music are today. For this very reason, his music has been covered time and time again by artists who have deeply felt his influence.
To celebrate Sam Cooke’s birthday, here are some of the best modern day covers of some of his classic songs.
The-Dream – IAMSAM
The-Dream has written songs for some of the most prominent artists of the last decade – Beyoncé, Rihanna, Justin Bieber and Mariah Carey are a few – and had his own solo success with singles like “Shawty Is a 10,” “Falsetto” and “Rockin’ That Thang.” With all of this success as a songwriter, it’s no surprise to find that he pulled a lot of his inspiration from Sam Cooke, one of the greatest songwriters of his time. To honor one of his idols, The-Dream released a cover album called IAMSAM late last year that features some of Cooke’s greatest hits.
The Fugees – “A Change Is Gonna Come”
Lauryn Hill singing a Sam Cooke song. Wyclef’s ad-libs and background vocals also add a new aspect to the song — like everything else from The Fugees.
Adele – “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin’ On”
Soul music’s influence on Adele is undeniable; some would even go as far as to consider her one of today’s best soul singers. It’s clear that she’s studied some of the greats. This 2008 video of her covering Cooke’s “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin’ On” in the early days of her career serves as proof of that. While it’s not one of Cooke’s most popular songs, it’s refreshing to see his popularity be both global and long-lasting.
Boyz II Men – “Cupid”
Boyz II Men are famously known for their impressive harmonies and the complexity of their vocal arrangements; their cover of Sam Cooke’s “Cupid” gives them another opportunity to put them on display. This song was released after the group’s height of popularity in the 1990s, but it’s still appreciated by fans of both them and Cooke, which understandably includes a lot of the same people.
Note: It wouldn’t be a Boyz II Men song without an a cappella breakdown in the middle of the track.
Leon Bridges – “Jesus Gave Me Water”
While Sam Cooke was still hopping around from one of Chicago’s gospel groups to the next, he put together enough quality songs to get a chance to head to Los Angeles and cross over as a mainstream soul singer. “Jesus Gave Me Water” was one of those songs. While on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Leon Bridges, who’s made pulling inspiration from the legends of old his staple, did a cover of Colbert’s favorite Cooke song.
T-Pain – “A Change Is Gonna Come”
NEWSFLASH: T-Pain doesn’t need autotune. The man who made the vocal editing tool famous with “Buy U A Drank,” “I’m Sprung,” and “Can’t Believe It” actually has a pretty strong singing voice that’s been put on display in the past. In fact, in the past few years, he’s moved away from it during concerts by performing songs live and one of them was “A Change is Gonna Come.” I know we’re cheating in that we included The Fugees cover, but this was too good to keep off the list. Here’s the rest of that performance in case you’re still in shock.