In his brief yet luminous career, Sam Cooke made perhaps a dozen recordings that were milestones of soul, and laid the groundwork for most of the R&B-related music that would dominate the charts for decades afterward. Cooke's signature sound fused the passion of his beloved gospel music with a silky-smooth, assured pop-vocal style. As a singer, songwriter, and producer, he was one of the most important figures in both pop and soul music in the 20th century. In 1964, while still at the prime of his musical ability, Cooke was murdered in a California hotel--a sudden end for a gifted and influential artist.
While Sam Cooke certainly made beautiful music in the pop realm, his greatest sides were those made with the Soul Stirrers. When Cooke joined the group in 1950 at the age of 19, he'd already spent 4 years singing with the Highway Q.C.'s. The Soul Stirrers lead singer, R.H. Harris, who quit just before Cooke's arrival, had spent almost 25 years molding the group into gospel stardom through an innovative use of two lead singers matched with utmost energy and sophistication. Cooke initially sang in a style similar to Harris's, but soon took off into his own unearthly realm, writing spine-tingling songs like "Nearer to Thee," "Mean Old World," and the brilliant "Touch the Hem of His Garment," then singing them in his soaring, inimitable style with perfect control of phrasing and enunciation. This is an awesome collection, a record to listen to many, many times--to grow old with. Save it for those days when you need absolute proof that true grace does exist. --Mike McGonigal
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