As the Christmas season arrived in 1964, the soulful pop crooner Sam Cooke was at the crest of his career.
Cooke, 33, had enjoyed a remarkable run of hit songs, beginning in 1957 with "You Send Me" and continuing with "Wonderful World," "Chain Gang," "Cupid," "Bring It on Home" and "Another Saturday Night," among many others.
He had sold 10 million records as a true crossover artist. His songs, with broad appeal to all races, rated high on both the pop and R&B charts. He had begun to dabble in acting, and talent agents saw limitless potential—film roles, a la Sammy Davis Jr., or a variety show, like Nat King Cole.
Born to humble roots in the Mississippi Delta, he had accumulated a personal fortune. He drove a $15,000 Ferrari convertible and lived with his lovely wife, Barbara, in a Hollywood mansion. A clever businessman, he seemed destined for even greater fame and unspeakable wealth.
But Cooke had a flaw of Biblical proportion: his unbridled libido.
He was a skirt-chaser and serial philanderer, a problem that shadowed his entire life since adolescence. At age 22, as he was blossoming as a star gospel singer, Cooke juggled three pregnant girlfriends—two in Chicago, one in Cleveland.
Cupid's well-worn arrow pricked Cooke yet again on December 10, 1964.
He was supposed to have dinner that night with his record producer, Al Schmitt, at Martoni's, an Italian restaurant off Sunset Boulevard, in Hollywood, that was a hangout for music business heavyweights. Cooke drove his red Ferrari down the few miles from his posh home on Ames Street in the Hollywood Hills.
Ferrari, similar to Cooke's
Schmitt and Cooke guzzled several pre-dinner martinis while talking business in the dining room. Cooke was beckoned into the cocktail lounge by a friend, and soon he was lost in a well-liquored rump session of L.A. musicians.
They laughed, sang and toasted with one glass of elixir after another.
At one point, a slinky young woman with Asian features caught Cooke's wandering eye. She was seated in a booth with several musicians, and Cooke sidled up for an introduction.
He winked, and she winked back.
The singer got sidetracked and missed dinner.
He should have known better. But they say he couldn't help himself.
Rat Pack Hangout
Her name was Elisa Boyer, an enigmatic 22-year-old with a British father and a Chinese mother.
She told Cooke she was a model and aspiring singer. She lived in a cheap hotel not far from Martoni's and had a reputation as a party girl along Sunset Strip.
Sam Cooke, raised in the church, was not a blustery braggart. Neither was he the sort of man who shied away from using his star status to inveigle a sweet young stranger at a bar.
Without question, Boyer soon understood that she was in the presence of Sam Cooke—the Sam Cooke.
Yet people at Martoni's that night said Boyer did not seem to be star-struck. The two acted liked dear old friends, a cozy couple, as they found their own booth for howdy-dos and whatnot.
After several drinks, they left together in Cooke's Ferrari and drove a couple of miles west on Sunset, then south a few blocks to PJ's, the Rat Pack hangout on Santa Monica Boulevard.
Cooke was a regular late-nighter at the club, which featured live music.
After ordering drinks, he left Boyer sitting alone at the bar while he made the rounds, greeting familiar faces in the big Thursday night crowd. At some point, the singer realized that in his absence another man was bird-dogging Boyer.
Cooke returned to the bar and challenged the interloper to a fight. Barflies who witnessed the tiff said it was obvious the singer was drunk. The disagreement was deflated after a few cusswords and idle threats.
At about 2 a.m., not long after the dustup, Cooke and Boyer got back into the Ferrari.
She later said he drove fast and recklessly—like a drunk.
No one but Cooke and Boyer could have known the nature of their plans that night as they left PJ's, but it wouldn't have been the first third-rate romance for either of them. Boyer had made the rounds with any number of men at Sunset Strip hot spots. And Cooke had a clear record of uncontrolled sexual drive that had left him with offspring scattered along the routes of his concert tours.
Cooke and Boyer drove some 17 miles south from Hollywood that night—a peculiar move for a man and woman looking for a bed. They could have stopped at any of a dozen different hotels in Hollywood or the countless motels they passed as he drove along the Harbor Freeway.
But Cooke clearly had a destination in mind—the Hacienda Motel, in gritty south-central Los Angeles.
the Hacienda Motel
It was as though he had been there before.
The Hacienda didn't get a lot of customers in red Ferraris. It was a $3-a-night dive on South Figueroa Street—the sort of place where the desk clerk kept a pistol handy.
"Everyone Welcome," read the sign out front. "Everyone" meant blacks.
Bertha Franklin was working the overnight shift when Cooke's sports car zipped into the parking lot at 2:35 a.m. Franklin watched as a man with show-business good looks glided into the office. He was paying in cash when his companion walked into the office. Franklin pointed out that motel policy required them to register as husband and wife.
So he signed in: "Mr. and Mrs. Sam Cooke."
He was as famous as any black musician in the world. He had appeared on "The Tonight Show" and "Ed Sullivan" many times, and most Americans would know his name, if not his face. But Cooke apparently felt no compunction about using his real name at a hot-sheets motel.
He was unpretentious—and wasted.
Cooke hailed from Clarksdale, Mississippi, the Mississippi Delta city downstream from Memphis, regarded as the birthplace of the blues.
The Clarksdale area, surrounded by fertile cotton fields, was hometown to many of America's most influential bluesmen, including Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, BB King, Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker.
Sam Cook (he added the "e" to his stage name) was born to that musical heritage.
He was the fifth of eight children of a Church of Christ (Holiness) preacher, Charles Cook, and his wife, Annie Mae.
Charles Cook had high expectations for his children. He was stern but fair, demanding punctuality and commanding respect—to the point that his own wife addressed him as "Reverend."
According to Cooke biographer Peter Guralnick, the Rev. Cook drilled into his children his favorite adage:
"Once a task is once begun/Never stop until it's done.
Be the labor great or small/Do it well or not at all."
His ministry did not support his family, but Cook was an industrious man. He worked many jobs, from cotton farming to handyman for a wealthy white family.
But by the time Sam was born, in 1931, the Great Depression had gripped the South, and Cook joined the black migration north, preaching his way to Chicago. He had one motivation.
"It was to educate my children," Cook told Guralnick. "It was a better chance up here. In Mississippi, they didn't even furnish you with the schoolbooks."
Cook landed a pulpit position at Christ Temple Church in Chicago Heights. His southern-style preaching was one attraction, but the vocal harmonies of his musical offspring also became a draw. Five of the eight were talented vocalists, and the family began performing as a religious act, Rev. Cook and His Singing Children.
The children were ages 13 to 4 when they began singing professionally.
By the late 1930s, the family was doing 15 cents-per-seat shows every weekend at one church or another. Eventually, the demand became so great that Rev. Cook hired a manager to do their bookings.
The oldest of the children, Mary and Charles Jr., took many of the vocal leads, but Sam grew up as the lead tenor, with sister Hattie and brother L.C., the youngest, providing harmonies.
Sam stood out in his ambition. He would tell his siblings, "I'm gonna sing and make a lot of money doing it."
The Singing Children's repertoire included the traditional sacred standards of black churches, songs like "There'll Be Singing Over Yonder," "Roll Jordan Roll" and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."
But black gospel music was reaching a new heyday in the 1950s, and groups like the Blues Jays, out of Birmingham, Alabama, the Sensational Nightingales, from Philadelphia, and the Soul Stirrers, originally from Texas, were attracting concert crowds with showy performances.
The Soul Stirrers
Young Sam grew to idolize and emulate the Soul Stirrers' tenor, R.H. Harris, whose three-octave range and startling falsetto made him a gospel star.
By the time he enrolled at Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago, Sam Cooke had been singing professionally with his family for nearly 10 years.
Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago
He was ready to branch out.
He and four other teenagers formed a gospel quintet, the Highway QCs. The group covered most of the Soul Stirrers' repertoire, with Sam copying R.H. Harris' vocal gymnastics.
But he proved to be much more than a mere mimic.
Even at age 15, he was a velvet-smooth singer with perfect diction, in the style of his pop idols, Nat Cole and the Ink Spots.
During high school, serendipity had placed Cook in regular contact with R.B. Robinson, a baritone with the Soul Stirrers who had moved to Chicago. Robinson was a relative of one of the QCs, and he began attending their rehearsals when he wasn't touring, acting as coach and polishing the act.
The group seemed to be headed places when it was invited to join a gospel jubilee tour after Sam graduated from high school, in 1948. But when the tour ended, the QCs were back in Chicago, with no record contract and few prospects beyond $15-a-man revival shows.
Even with the surge in its popularity, gospel music had a limited number of fans, many of them poor. The market for recordings was a fraction of that of pop music, even for top acts like the Soul Stirrers and Mahalia Jackson.
But Sam Cooke was about to take another avenue toward fame.
In 1950, R.H. Harris decided to leave the Soul Stirrers and strike out as a solo act. The group auditioned several replacement tenors before taking R.B. Robinson's advice and inviting in Sam Cooke. At 19, he was nearly a full generation younger than the others in the group, but Sam fit right in as a singer—in part because he already knew most of Harris' vocal lines.
Young Sam Cooke
The Soul Stirrers hired young Cooke, outfitted him with five new suits, and went on the road just days later. He sang with the busy group for six years, performing more than 1,000 concerts coast to coast and making dozens of records.
Cooke enjoyed a certain type of fame. But he was also an interested observer in the early 1950s as black pop artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Bo Diddley began to break out of the "race music" pigeonhole into which musicians like Louis Jordan had been forced.
The new breed of rock 'n' rollers began attracting "chessboard" crowds of both blacks and whites, and their songs shows up on both pop and R&B charts. Meanwhile, the Soul Stirrers were performing for audiences that were nearly invariably black, especially in the Jim Crow southern states.
Cooke's friend Bumps Blackwell, a manager and producer with the Soul Stirrers, believed that the singer had pop potential. In 1956, with Blackwell's direction, Sam Cooke recorded his first pop single, "Lovable," under the name Dale Cooke so he wouldn't offend his gospel fans.
The move got the unexpected blessing of his father.
"It isn't what you sing that is so important, but rather the fact that God gave you a good voice to use," said the Rev. Cook. "He must want you to make people happy by singing, so go ahead and do so."
"Lovable" wasn't a hit, but it showed Cooke's potential.
The following summer, Keen Records released—under the name of Sam Cooke—"Summertime," the George Gershwin aria from "Porgy and Bess." But it was the song on the B-side of the record that began getting attention from disc jockeys, and the number began climbing.
On December 1, 1957, Cooke appeared on CBS' "The Ed Sullivan Show" to sing that tune: "You Send Me."
The Sullivan gig pushed the single over it over the top. The next day, it was No. 1 on the Billboard pop chart. Eventually, it sold a million copies—more than 10 times his best-selling Soul Stirrers recording.
Sam Cooke, gospel stalwart, and Dale Cooke, pop crooner, merged into Sam Cooke, rock 'n' roll's latest sensation.
The night at Martoni's in 1964 was scarcely seven years after Cooke had sung "You Send Me" on the Sullivan Show.
But what a trip it had been.
Cooke charted nearly 30 songs during that time, working first with tiny Keen Records and later with industry giant RCA, which paid him monumental advance of $100,000 in 1960—and allowed him to maintain ownership of his previous recordings.
His hit records included "Only Sixteen," "Everybody Likes to Cha Cha Cha" and "Young Blood" in 1959; "Wonderful World," "Chain Gang" and "I'm in a Sad Mood" in 1960; "Cupid" in 1961; "Bring It on Home," "Havin' a Party," Twistin' the Night Away" and "Nothing Can Change This Love" in 1962, and "Another Saturday Night" in 1963.
Cooke founded his own label, SAR Records, and was busy as a talent scout and producer.
He was one of the first black musical entrepreneurs to break out of R&B and into mainstream pop. He helped launch the rock 'n' roll careers of Billy Preston, Lou Rawls and Bobby Womack, a young member of the Womack Brothers, a family gospel act out of Cleveland.
Cooke also showed considerable talent as a songwriter, often working with his younger brother, L.C. Inspired by Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and the Freedom Summer protests in the south, Sam Cooke in 1963 wrote and recorded "A Change Is Gonna Come," his paean to America's burgeoning Civil Rights movement.
He had a personal motivation.
On Oct. 8, 1963, Cooke and three other blacks tried to check into a whites-only Holiday Inn in Shreveport, La. When they were turned away by the manager, they got into a shouting match and sat outside in their car, honking the horn. Cooke was arrested for disturbing the peace, along with his wife, Barbara; his brother Charles, and his friend and Soul Stirrers' manager, S.R. Crane.
Cooke was still stinging a few months later, on February 7, 1964, when he appeared on "The Tonight Show." The producer asked him to sing his hit songs. But he insisted on debuting "A Change Is Gonna Come."
"There have been times that I thought I couldn't last for long,
But now I think I'm able to carry on.
It's been a long time coming,
But I know a change is gonna come."
The yearning song would become a Civil Rights anthem. Many believed Cooke was destined to be a musical standard-bearer for the movement. But it wasn't to be.
From the time that he first sprouted peach-fuzz whiskers, Sam Cooke had had a twinkle in his eye for the ladies.
He was well-mannered, having been raised properly, so he greeted any and all well-wishers after his performances. But young women always got special attention.
The gospel circuit was very good for his love life. And Cooke was indiscriminate in his affairs, according to paternity detective work done by his biographers.
In the early spring of 1953, a young Chicago woman named Evelyn Hicks gave birth to a daughter fathered by Sam Cooke. A month later, on April 23, Marine Somerville, 18, of Cleveland delivered another baby girl fathered by Cooke. And two days later, his longtime Chicago girlfriend, Barbara Campbell, gave birth to Cooke's third daughter, named Linda, born in a five-week span.
Perhaps even more remarkably for that era, Cooke married none of them. Instead, that fall he wed a different woman, a striking singer from Texas who went by the name Dee-Dee Mohawk. The marriage didn't take root because Dee-Dee couldn't tolerate her husband's wandering eye.
They divorced in 1957, not long before Cooke's breakthrough performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show" pushed "You Send Me" to the top of the charts. (Dee-Dee died in a car accident in California a year later.)
Robert Christgau, the venerable rock critic, wrote that "You Send Me" "turned him into an instant idol, adored by girls black and white." This new level of fame arrived with an unexpected adjunct: paternity lawsuits.
Cooke was bedeviled by paternity allegations. No one knows for certain how many children he fathered out of wedlock, but his manager wrote more than a few checks to quietly settle out-of-court cases brought by various women.
Even during his marriage to Dee-Dee, Cooke had stayed in extra-connubial contact with Barbara Campbell, mother of his daughter Linda. Campbell was on the verge of marrying her minister boyfriend in 1958 when Cooke showed up at her door in a fit of jealousy.
He proposed, and she took the better option.
The couple settled in Los Angeles after their marriage that fall. They had two more children, daughter Tracey, born in 1960, and son Vincent, born 12 months later. (Vincent drowned in the family's backyard pool in 1963.)
Cooke's philandering was a persistent issue in their marriage. He would show up at dawn after a night out and slough off her demands of an explanation.
Eventually, Barbara, a proud and handsome woman, began to respond in kind. She took a lover or two of her own.
Elisa Boyer, Sam Cooke's motel date on that night in 1964, said he drove fast and recklessly. She said she demanded to be taken home, but he ignored her.
That may be true, but she indicated no distress to clerk Bertha Franklin when she walked into the motel office while Cooke was paying.
Their room was at the rear, and Cooke drove around the building to park in front of their door. Once inside the motel room, the date went bad.
Cooke apparently got aggressive as he stripped Boyer to her underwear.
"I started talking very loudly: 'Please, take me home,'" Boyer later told police. "He pinned me on the bed. He kept saying, 'We're just going to talk.'...He pulled my sweater off and ripped my dress...I knew he was going to rape me."
Boyer went into the bathroom. She said she planned to climb out the window, but it was locked.
Cooke barged in on her, she said, and, after another round of groping, she left the bathroom while the singer relieved himself.
When Cooke emerged moments later, Boyer was gone—along with his wallet and most of his clothing.
Cooke, dressed only in a sports jacket and shoes, jumped in his car and sped around to the front of the motel to try to find her. In his drunken rage, he assumed she had gone back to the office.
Cooke pounded on the locked glass door, bellowing, "Where's the girl?"
Franklin, who happened to be on the phone with the motel owner, went to the door and said she didn't know.
"He just kept saying, 'Where's the girl,'" Franklin later recounted. "I told him to get the police if he wanted to search my place. He said, 'Damn the police.'"
Cooke kicked his way through the door, seizing Franklin by the arms. He was a fit 33-year-old, and she was heavyset and 55.
"We got in a tussle," the woman told police. "We fell to the floor. I tried to bite him through that jacket."
Franklin broke free and fetched the .22 pistol she kept on hand. She pointed it at the intruder and squeezed the trigger three times. One of the shots pierced Sam Cooke's heart.
"Lady, you shot me!" he cried out—seemingly more out of surprise than pain.
When Cooke didn't succumb immediately, Franklin proceeded to beat him with a broom handle.
A Star Is Dead
Evelyn Carr, the motel owner, was an earwitness to the shooting. She listened in as Franklin put down the phone and went to the door to deal with the drunken man.
After hearing the shots, Carr hung up and phoned police at about 3:15 a.m. "I think she shot him," Carr said.
Seven minutes earlier, police had received a call from Elisa Boyer from a phone booth a block from the motel. Boyer reported she had been kidnapped.
She said she escaped in her underwear and stopped in a stairwell to dress.
Sam Cooke, as officers found him
Police cars, with sirens wailing, raced to the scene, and officers found Sam Cooke dead. His Ferrari was still sitting outside the office, the driver's door open and the engine running.
A few minutes after police arrived, Elisa Boyer walked up and presented herself as the victim of the dead celebrity.
Police found a bottle of Scotch in the Ferrari. They also inventoried Cooke's property: a wristwatch, a money clip with $108, and some loose change.
A thin wallet in which Cooke carried credit cards and his driver's license was never found. Witnesses at Martoni's said he had a wad of perhaps $1,000. Police found no wad—just the bills neatly folded in the money clip.
They searched Boyer's purse but found only a single $20 bill.
Barbara Cooke was shamed by the circumstances of her husband's demise, which made news from coast to coast. But she mounted a first-class farewell for him, including three full days of viewing in L.A. so his legion of fans could bid goodbye.
Thousands passed his casket, fitted with a plastic top to allow a final look at Sam Cooke. Many mourners pointed out the facial bruises from the broomstick whipping he took from Bertha Franklin.
The body was then flown to Chicago for a funeral in his adopted hometown. The Staple Singers sang "Old Rugged Cross," Billy Preston played an organ hymn, and Lou Rawls said goodbye to his friend with a tear-filled rendition of "Just a Closer Walk With Thee."
Cooke's remains were returned to Los Angeles for a second funeral at Mount Sinai Baptist Church that featured a musical tribute by Ray Charles.
Both Bertha Franklin and Elisa Boyer were scrutinized in the death. But as one newspaper account put it, "The police said the stories told by the women were substantiated by lie-detector tests." The coroner held a hearing five days after the slaying, presenting evidence to seven jurors as Cooke's father and widow sat in the audience.
Elisa Boyer testifies at the hearing
Boyer retold her story: She met Cooke in a bar and left with him, expecting to be taken home. Instead, he drove to the motel and "dragged me into that room."
Likewise, Franklin reprised her account of the confrontation with Cooke. Motel owner Carr and two guests at the Hacienda added insignificant details.
In just two hours, the testimony was complete.
When an attorney hired by the Cooke family tried to inquire about what Boyer did for a living, a prosecutor snapped, "We are not concerned with the occupation of the girl."
The jurors took 15 minutes to rule the shooting justifiable to "protect life, limb and property."
Yet the issue of Boyer's occupation soon became pertinent.
During publicity about the slaying, the press had referred to Boyer as a "Eurasian vocalist."
But on January 11, 1965, exactly a month after Cooke was shot, Boyer was arrested for prostitution at a Hollywood motel after agreeing by phone to have sex with an undercover cop for $40.
The prostitution charge against Boyer was eventually thrown out of court as entrapment, and the woman slipped into anonymity. Boyer claimed she had inadvertently taken Cooke's clothing in her rush to get out of the room. If her motive was robbery, why would she have stopped to call police?
Perhaps she was terrified.
We'll never know Sam Cooke's side of the story. It was lost forever as he was lowered into a grave in the "Garden of Honor" at Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, just a few miles from the singer's home.
A few weeks after Cooke's death, his record company released "A Change Is Gonna Come" and "Shake" as a two-sided single. Each song was a hit on both the pop and R&B charts.
On February 24, 1964, 66 days after Cooke was buried, his widow married Bobby Womack, Cooke's 21-year-old guitar player and former member of the Womack Brothers, a band that Cooke had helped nurture. Womack later said he wed Barbara out of sympathy, fearing she might be suicidal if left alone.
Whatever their motivation, their bliss did not endure. The couple divorced in 1970.
In another curious twist, Cooke's daughter, Linda, married another of the Womack brothers, Cecil. They enjoyed a moderately successful career as a soul duo, Womack and Womack.
In 1986, Sam Cooke was elected as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Three years later, he was inducted again as a member of the Soul Stirrers.
Interview with Erik Greene I
Interview with Erik Greene II
CL: What objections do Cooke's loved ones have to the way his demise has been portrayed in the media?
Greene:The "Twist"picture of Sam dancing onstage with his niece is a perfect example of how slipshod the coverage of Sam's life has been. In a recent biography, my cousin Ophelia was misidentified as my mother even though there's an eight year age difference between them! Sam's younger brother L.C. was mistakenly identified as Sam in the early pages of the same book. How credible are the book's intimate details if the subject can't be identified correctly?
Another book had a picture of Sam getting dressed backstage in 1968—four years after his death! Though the corrections in the first book were eventually made, shoddy attention to the simplest details is why there needed to be clarification in Sam's story, a reference source which would bring things "back to center."
Since December of 1964, the sketchy facts surrounding Sam Cooke's death have been a topic of discussion by fans worldwide. Some see him as "being in the wrong place at the wrong time," or "a victim of his lifestyle catching up with him," or any one of a number of open-and-shut explanations. Some hint at a conspiracy to make an example out of an outspoken black entrepreneur. Others have insisted the hit was mob-related.
CL: And what does the family believe?
Greene:Since Sam's untimely death, the Cook family has commonly held the belief that the whole scenario was a set-up. They immediately dismissed the "facts" as presented because they knew certain things about his nature: Sam would never have to force himself on a woman—any woman. While he was known to have his trysts, he would routinely turn down dozens of propositions from women who threw themselves at him. The family knew the actions as described weren't in Sam's nature. Sam always did everything first class. As a successful entertainer and businessman, his clothes were tailor-made and he drove the finest cars (he was sporting a new, 1965 Ferrari the night of his murder). The thought of him checking into a $3-a-night motel would be laughable if the situation weren't so gravely serious.
Sam Cooke is remembered by my family and colleagues alike with love and admiration. When in public, his nieces and nephews remembered how their Uncle Sam would acknowledge fans, but still keep his family top priority. He found out a childhood friend was having trouble raising a family and going to school at the same time, so he stepped in paid his friend's tuition. Aretha Franklin described Sam Cooke as "a fabuloushumanitarian, a dynamite artist, and a prince of a man." Lou Adler, who co-wrote Sam's 1959 classic "(What a) Wonderful World," called him "the greatest guy I ever met." Etta James said "he gave you the feeling he was very glad and blessed to be Sam Cooke."
The fact that Sam was portrayed as an over-sexed potential rapist deeply disturbed those that knew him best. Not only was this far from the truth, it was the kind of accusation that was almost impossible to disprove. On the other hand, a black entertainer taking advantage of a defenseless, star-struck Eurasian girl was much more plausible in the public's eyes, especially if it's been reported alcohol was involved. But just how innocent was the victim?
The question of Elisa Boyer's character and occupation was quickly suppressed by the coroner in the inquest, and the fact that she was indeed a prostitute didn't come out until she was arrested in a LAPD sting operation a month later. Had the question been allowed, it would've made inquiring minds ask, "Why would a well-known entertainer with a pocket full of money attempt to rape a prostitute?" These inconsistencies, as well as others, are discussed in detail in Our Uncle Sam.
Interview with Erik Greene III
CL: What is your family's perspective on the events of the night that Sam Cooke was killed?
Greene:Personal feelings from the family aside, Sam's shooting didn't make sense from several common-sense angles. First of all, why would Sam to drive that far out of his way (and Boyer's, for that matter) to go to the seedy Hacienda Motel, especially since he would've had to pass several quality motels in order to do so? In the coroner's inquest, Boyer claimed she was held against her will, yet Sam allegedly left her in the car alone as he checked into the motel. During questioning, she testified she asked Sam if she could go to the bathroom as he was ripping off her clothes, and he stopped assaulting her so she could take a bathroom break. When she was done, he left her alone again and used the bathroom himself—finally giving her the opportunity to escape!
Bertha Franklin (the motel attendant) testified that Sam broke down her door, searched her apartment, and then came back into the living room demanding to know where Boyer went. Franklin claimed Sam twisted her arm and pinned her down on the floor, demanding to know more information, yet she managed to escape the hold—an interesting scenario that was never questioned. During their tussle, she grabbed her gun from atop the television and shot Sam. Why hadn't Franklin remembered her gun when he was trying to break down the door? Why didn't she go for the gun while Sam was searching the apartment? In Our Uncle Sam, I point out how many things don't make sense and were never questioned in the "official" explanation of events that night.
Personally, I believe Sam was killed because he was worth more dead than alive to certain parties.
CL: To whom?
Greene:First of all, there were details in Sam's death that were strikingly similar to that of singer Bobby "I Fought the Law" Fuller. Both had at one time been artists signed to record labels owned by Bob Keane. Both died in absurd manners whose evidence was largely ignored. (Fuller's death was ruled a suicide even though his autopsy revealed gasoline was poured down his throat after he died). The last place both were seen alive was PJ's—the Los Angeles nightclub owned by reputed mobsters. It was rumored Keane had a $1 million insurance policy on Fuller at the time of his death, though I haven't found evidence of a similar policy on Sam. It is unclear if this incident had a direct correlation with Sam's homicide, but it's interesting enough to note just the same.
What's of more significance is that within six months of his death, Sam's ex-Manager Allen Klein sat as president of Tracey Records Limited, the parent company of Sam's enterprises named after his daughter. J.W. Alexander, Sam's long-time business partner, assumed the role of Tracey's vice president. Sam's will was never found, so his wife, at one time facing the humiliation of divorce, now found herself executor of his estate. Sam's parents, brothers and sisters got nothing and still don't receive royalties from his estate or his music catalog to this day.
After my first edition was released, I was contacted by persons who had knowledge pertaining to his business dealings, as well as someone who offered a chilling account of what happened that night. I go into more detail in the second edition.
Interview with Erik Greene IV
CL: So you believe Boyer and Franklin were acting on behalf of someone else? That would seem a strange way to commit a planned murder.
Greene:You're right. As reported, it would've been a strange way to plan a murder, but apparently things went awry from the original script. First of all, Boyer was a prop. She was used to get Sam from Martoni's restaurant to PJ's night club. Bertha Franklin's inclusion was accidental; the murder scene was supposed to be the motel room. My source insists Sam was brought to a room in the Hacienda for an arranged "meeting." The meeting in the motel room was meant to encourage Sam to take his career in another direction, but after Sam refused he was subdued with a blunt object, shot, and left for dead. My source says what happened next was never part of the plan: Sam stumbled out of the room and made his way to the motel manager's office. Behind the office window was a one-bedroom apartment in which Franklin lived. The killer, realizing the job wasn't done, dragged Sam inside and shot him again—the second time in Franklin's apartment. This alternate scenario makes sense, since evidence showed the gun had been fired three times, yet only the fatal bullet and a ricochet were found inside Franklin's apartment. The first shot occurred in the motel room itself. The way it was explained to me, Franklin and Boyer were both compensated for their involvement, but neither one pulled the trigger. Tables were overturned and the room disheveled to give the impression of a struggle. "The whole thing was like a movie," is how my source describes the staged cover-up.
CL: Do you feel the popular portrayal of Sam Cooke's death denigrates his musical and personal legacy?
Greene:I definitely feel the negative details surrounding Sam's death helped suppress his legacy. Also because the family does not control the Sam Cooke music catalog (how this came to pass and why are also discussed in my book), his music isn't as widely distributed as it should be. And while many entertainers before and after Sam had active sex lives, Sam's exploits have been overdramatized because of how he reportedly died.
As far as his legacy is concerned, it was once said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant," and I believe the time has come for my uncle to enjoy his day in the sun. Despite the actions of others, the timeless classics and warm memories Sam Cooke left behind have created a global following that ensures his time on earth is never forgotten.
CL: The lingering questions about Sam Cooke's death must be a load to bear for his loved ones.
Greene:The Cook family always believed that Sam did not die as reported. However, it was hard to convince persons outside the family how many inconsistencies with Sam's nature the "official" version contained. At one point, Sam's father called a family forum to say "Let it go. People are going to believe what they're going to believe, so it's futile to try to convince them otherwise." Now, 43 years after his death, I tried to gain greater insight to the mystery of Sam's death in Our Uncle Sam. I've analyzed available medical reports and legal documents, and I've sifted through the inconsistencies to try to piece together what happened in Sam's final hours. The length of time that's passed since his death may seem extreme to some, but I truly believe that all things come together in time. Now is that time.
Interview with Erik Greene V
CL: What goes through your mind when you hear 'Cupid' or 'Wonderful World' on the radio?
Greene:I feel an enormous sense of pride because my uncle was an amazing talent. He wrote most of his major hits—You Send Me, Chain Gang, Only Sixteen, Cupid, Twistin' the Night Away, Having a Party, Another Saturday Night, A Change is Gonna Come—I could go on and on. He was the first African-American artist to own a record label, and he would write, arrange, and produce songs for the artists on his label. At a time when someone had to take a stand, he became the first artist to refuse to sing to segregated audiences.
Sam Cooke recognized the business end of the record industry and negotiated ownership of his publishing rights when he signed his contract with RCA. Very few entertainers, black or white, could have successfully made such a demand. Ray Charles had sold millions of records on the Atlantic label but was refused his publishing rights when he confronted the label's owners. Sam recognized how important it was to take control of one's career, and he wouldn't hesitate to share such sacred knowledge to anyone who was willing to listen.
Besides being a tremendous talent, he was a tremendous human being. He never forgot where he came from and blended in with the common man despite his superstar status. His generosity came from his father, Reverend Charles Cook Sr. During Sam's formative years, Papa Cook would often house and feed hungry children in the neighborhood, citing the fact that his children may be in need one day when he wasn't around. Sam never forgot the lessons learned as a child and carried them forward in his short but memorable lifetime.
It warms me to hear a Sam Cooke song at an unexpected time because it brings back all the loving memories of my early childhood. My mom would play his records and tell me stories about how special Sam made her and the rest of the family feel. This is the side of Sam Cooke I remember growing up, and the Sam Cooke I chose to share with the world in Our Uncle Sam.
By David Krajicek (Crime Library)
* Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story from His Family's Perspective, Erik Greene, Trafford Publishing, 2006
* Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, Peter Guralnick, Little, Brown and Company, 2005
* You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, Daniel Wolff, William Morrow & Co., 1995
* "In Search of Sam Cooke," by Robert Christgau, The Nation, Oct. 10, 2005
* "Sam Cooke's Widow Wed," Los Angeles Times, March 6, 1965
* "Thousands Attend Rites for Singer Sam Cooke," by Charles Hillinger, Los Angeles Times, Dec. 20, 1964
* "Mourners Jam Streets to See Sam Cooke Body," Los Angeles Times, Dec. 14, 1964
* "Shooting of Sam Cooke Held 'Justifiable Homicide," New York Times, Dec. 17, 1964
* "Sam Cooke Slain in Coast Motel," New York Times, Dec. 12, 1964
* "Band Leader Freed on Bail in Motel Row," Los Angeles Times, Oct. 10, 1963
* "Negro Band Leader Held in Shreveport," New York Times, Oct. 9, 1963
The history of the Butlers/Raw Soul is dense, but for all of us music nerds, that's normal. It is not totally clear what year the Butlers actually formed but they released their first single in 1963 on Liberty Records. That single was "She Tried To Kiss Me" and another single followed on Guyden entitled "Lovable Girl." After the Guyden single the Butlers took a break not recording another record until the single "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" was released on the Phila label in 1966. The group also backed Charles Earland and Jean Wells on one Phila single ("I Know She Loves Me").
As you might be noticing, the Butlers were doing a fair amount of recording but not achieving much success. The group's recordings sold regionally but never had the promotion to make an impact on the national scene. After the single with Phila, the Butlers moved to the Fairmount label (part of the Cameo-Parkway family) and released a handful of singles, some being reissued singles of the past. The Butlers were with Fairmount for 1966-67 and then moved to Sassy Records. Sassy released the group's greatest single (in my opinion) "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" b/w "If That's What You Wanted." A copy of that 45 sold for just under $500 last summer on eBay. Even though that isn't that much in the world of record collecting--it's still a hefty sum. The Butlers released another single on Sassy ("She's Gone" b/w "Love Is Good") that appears to be even
harder to come by then the "Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" single.
The true history become a bit blurred here as the AMG biography states that the Butlers last record was released on C.R.S. in 1974 (". However, between 1971 and that single, Frankie Beverly formed a group called Raw Soul and released a number of singles. Some of the songs recorded by Beverly during this period are "While I'm Alone," "Open Up Your Heart," (both on the Gregor label) and "Color Blind." "Color Blind" was released by the Eldorado label and rerecorded by Maze. Beverly's big break came when Marvin Gaye asked Raw Soul to back him on a tour. Gaye helped Beverly/Raw Soul get a contract at Capitol. Beverly decided to take the group in a different direction, a name change occurred, and Maze was created.
The above isn't the most complete history of Beverly but hopefully someone will know a way to get in touch with the man or his management because a comprehensive pre-Maze history needs to be done on Frankie Beverly (his real name is Howard, by the way). Below you'll find every Frankie Beverly (pre-Maze) song available to me right now ("Color Blind" will be up soon).
If you have a song that is not included below, shoot it over to funkinsoulman (at) yahoo.com and it will go up in the next Frankie Beverly post (later this week--highlighting Maze). Also, if you have any more information please share your knowledge. The Butlers material has been comp-ed sporadically (usually imports) but the entire Maze catalog has been reissued and is available.
Enjoy. "She Kissed Me" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
"I Want To Feel I'm Wanted" (not sure which label or year) "Laugh, Laugh, Laugh" (Phila, 1966) "Because Of My Heart" (Fairmount, 1966 or 1967)
"Love (Your Pain Goes Deep)" (Sassy, 1967)
"If That's What You Wanted" (Sassy, 1967)
Frankie Beverly is one of those cats that has lasting power. He started in the music business doing a tour with doo wop group the Silhouettes and then formed his own group called the Blenders. The Blenders never recorded a single, Beverly wouldn't appear on wax until forming the Butlers a few years later. Along with Beverly, the Butlers included Jack "Sonny" Nicholson, Joe Collins, John Fitch, and Talmadge Conway.
Beverly would later enjoy great success fronting Maze and Conway would become a
well-known penning Double Exposure's
"Ten Percent" and the Intruders' "Memories Are Here To Stay."
While Maze is a phenomenal group, Beverly's work before that group will always stand out as his best (imo).
The Butlers produced tunes that most Northern Soul fans would kill for and Raw Soul gave the funksters something to pursue. If, by chance, you know of a way to get in touch with Frankie Beverly or his management, please drop me an e-mail. It would be absolutely great to do an interview with him about his pre-Maze work. He's still playing out, most recently doing a New Year's Eve show in Atlanta.