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The Unsolved Death of Sam Cooke

Murder always attracts attention, particularly when the victim is famous. Sam Cooke was certainly famous and popular as a singer back in the 1950s and 1960s. Often called the �father of soul’, he almost singlehandedly brought soul music to a wider audience around the world.

Sam Cooke was not just a singer, but wrote songs too. He was an astute businessman who established a company to publish his songs. He also played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement.

The manner of Sam Cooke’s death, however, has been surrounded by scandal, inaccuracies and conspiracy theories that have exercised the minds of writers and commentators for more than fifty years. Although reports say he was killed in self-defense, there may be reason to believe that he was murdered, and may even be part of a large-scale government conspiracy. Keep watching to get the lowdown on the man, his murder and all the theories that surround it.

Sam Cooke’s early life and career

Sam Cooke was born in Mississippi in 1931. He was one of eight children born to the Reverend Charles and Annie Mae Cook. Charles Cook expected his children to behave in a moral and Christian manner, and this dictated the course of Sam’s childhood years. In 1933 the family moved to Chicago.

Together with his brothers and sisters, Sam began singing in a family group called The Singing Children. He was just 6 years old, and the group specialized in gospel and gospel-inspired songs. At 14 Sam joined The Highway Q.C.’s and rose to be the lead singer of the group.

When he was 19, Sam took over as lead singer of The Soul Stirrers. Under the leadership of R. H. Harris they signed a record deal with Speciality Records. Sam began to write songs as well as sing, and The Soul Stirrers recorded more than a few of Sam’s songs.

Sam was young, handsome and attracted attention from young fans. It was not unusual for young female fans to rush towards the stage when The Soul Stirrers were performing just to get a close-up glimpse of Sam. Their biggest hit was “Jesus Gave Me Water” which brought them praise and increased their popularity.

In 1957 Sam left The Soul Stirrers to follow a solo career as a popular music singer. As a means of marking this new beginning, Sam added an ‘e’ to his name and became Sam Cooke. As a solo performer, Sam pioneered the growth of soul music in the mainstream of pop music. He led where many other soul singers were to follow. Performers like Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Al Green, Bobby Womack, Otis Redding and James Brown owed much to Sam Cooke’s breaking the barriers between soul and rock’n’roll.

Sam Cooke’s greatest hits include classics like “Twistin’ the Night Away”, “You Send Me”, “Bring It On Home to Me”, “Chain Gang”, “Wonderful World”, and “Cupid”. Currently his best known hit is probably “A Change Is Gonna Come”.

The inspiration for “A Change is Gonna Come” initially came from an incident in Shreveport, Louisiana in October 1963. Sam together with his wife and some friends tried to book rooms at a Holiday Inn. They were refused, because of their color, and Sam protested that this was unfair. When they drove away they did so blaring their car horns and shouting at the hotel staff. They were subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace.

Later in the year, Sam heard Bob Dylan’s song “Blowin’ in the Wind” and was moved by its lyrics. He felt that if a white songwriter could write such a moving song about race, then perhaps he should write one too. The final spur came from Martin Luther King Jr’s I have a Dream speech. Sam claimed that “A Change is Gonna Come” came to him in a dream as a whole, complete song.

The song was first recorded at the RCA Studios in Hollywood on January 30th 1964. It was given a full orchestral arrangement and appeared on Sam’s album “Ain’t That Good News” which was released on March 1st. Sam had already performed the song on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson to considerable acclaim.

Sam had long been a supporter of the Civil Rights Movement and “A Change is Gonna Come” was adopted by the movement as one of their anthems. A single of the song did not appear until two weeks after Sam’s death. The song was amended and re-recorded before release as a single.

Sam devoted a great deal of time and effort into writing “A Change is Gonna Come” and it is today considered to be his most influential composition. It has consistently appeared in Greatest Songs lists and has found a place in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.

Before we get into the gritty details surrounding Sam’s personal life and death, please click the like button if you’re enjoying the video. Subscribe to Facts Verse and stay tuned for more!

Sam Cooke’s Personal Life

Before we begin to examine the events surrounding Sam’s death, we need to catch up on his life outside the music industry.

In 1953 Sam married Dolores Milligan who was a singer and dancer known professionally as Dee Dee Mohawk. The couple divorced in 1958. The following year Dolores was killed in an automobile accident in Fresno.

Sam married again in 1958, this time to Barbara Campbell. Together they had three children. Tragically the youngest, Vincent, drowned in the swimming pool at their home when just two years old.

Sam Cooke had a reputation as a womanizer and many speculate that this is what led to his death.

Sam Cooke’s death

At the time of his death Sam Cooke was at the pinnacle of his career. He had a broad fan base and was getting hit after hit. He was known to be sympathetic to the aims of the Civil Rights movement and expressed his views in song and through interviews.

Taken at face value, his death seems straightforward. He was shot by the Night Manager of a motel who feared that he was going to attack her. She claimed she acted in self-defense. The authorities accepted her explanation and declared the death to be justifiable homicide. Many others, including his friends, family and various witnesses disagreed and the events surrounding Sam’s death have been debated ever since.

On December 11th 1964 Sam Cooke booked into the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles with a girl named Elisa Boyer. She had been booked in as Mrs Cooke, but in fact, she and Sam had eaten at a restaurant in town, and then came to the Hacienda to indulge in sex. Sam’s infidelities were well-known and he had fathered at least three children illegitimately.

In the room at the motel Elisa Boyer claimed that Sam tore her clothing off, and she feared he was going to rape her. When he went to the bathroom, she grabbed her clothes and fled. In grabbing her clothes, she also scooped up most of Sam’s clothes. When he came out of the bathroom he realized what had happened and gave chase.

Elisa meantime had tried to raise the Night Manager and hide in her office. The Night Manager was too slow in coming to the office door and Elisa fled into the street. Sam reached the office and thinking Elisa was in there, demanded entry. He was dressed only in a jacket and with one shoe.

The Night Manager was a woman named Bertha Franklin and seeing that Sam was angry and aggressive, grabbed a gun and shot him in the chest. Sam lunged towards her and she hit him several times with a broom handle. The gunshot had been fatal, though, and Sam collapsed and died on the floor of the office.

That’s the official story, and the one recorded by the police. Elisa Boyer had dressed after fleeing the hotel and had hidden Sam’s clothes. She rang the police from a phone booth outside claiming attempted rape. Bertha Franklin also rang the police from her office. The owner of the motel had been on the telephone talking with Bertha Franklin and heard the scuffle and the gunshot through the dropped receiver. She also rang the police.

There are, however, a number of inconsistencies that we must highlight at this point. Firstly, restaurant staff and customers where the pair had eaten claimed that Sam had a large quantity of money with him. Ostensibly this was to buy Christmas gifts. That money was never recovered.

Bertha Franklin had at one time been an operator of a brothel, and rumors persisted after the killing that she and Boyer, who had worked as a prostitute, were running a scam. Boyer would find victims and offer to sleep with them, but the two women would pickpocket them and then cry rape. Franklin had shot a motel guest in similar circumstances just six months earlier.

Boyer claimed that she had been forced to accompany Sam to the Hacienda, but again both customers and staff at the restaurant say that she left willingly with no sign of coercion. If she went willingly with Sam to the hotel room, which casts doubt on her claim of being forcibly stripped. It is also not clear whether she did grab some of Sam’s clothes accidentally, of whether it was done on purpose. Perhaps having Sam chase her when he was virtually naked would add substance to their story.

Those who viewed Sam’s body when it had been laid out in his coffin were alarmed at the beating he must have taken before he died. Reliable witnesses like Etta James claim that a broom handle could not have caused the injuries they saw. Sam’s head had been almost severed and he was bruised and cut to a major extent.

What might be the real story? We can only guess. There are some who suggest that Allen Klein, Sam’s manager, might have been behind the murder. Sam’s death would give Klein ownership of the rights to Sam’s back catalogue. He does seem an unlikely culprit as a living Sam would produce more songs and so bring more wealth to Klein.

Another popular theory is that a government agency such as the FBI or CIA were the prime movers in the murder. Perhaps they wished to remove a civil rights activist whose popularity they feared? It is argued that Franklin and Boyer were implicit in a deal that guaranteed them immunity from prosecution for other crimes.

This theory tries to explain the injuries that Sam sustained by suggesting he was beaten up by government agents before being shot. Whether the shot was fired by Franklin or someone else cannot be proven.

It may or may not be relevant to note that Elisa Boyer was arrested the following month for agreeing to have sex with an undercover police officer in return for $40. 15 years later she was charged with manslaughter and convicted for shooting her then boyfriend.

Finally, we can note that during the investigation into Sam’s murder, both Franklin and Boyer successfully passed lie detector tests. Naturally, experts have since questioned the accuracy and reliability of such tests.

Now, with all this information before you, it is up to you to decide what the truth is in this case. Do you think the case is open and shut, or is there more that we don’t know? Let us know in the comments! And if you enjoyed this video, show your support by clicking the like button. As always, subscribe to Facts Verse and click the notification bell for more videos like this.

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