After years as the reigning voice in gospel music, Sam Cooke burst onto the pop scene with the 1957 release of his million-selling single, “You Send Me.” The song's innovative blend of Gospel, Pop, and R&B earned him the title of The Man Who Invented Soul.”
In addition to being an accomplished singer, songwriter and producer, Sam Cooke is remembered as the first artist to take a political stand and refuse to sing to segregated audiences. He also recognized the politics of the music industry early in life. At a time when record labels often left even the most talented and successful artist broke and penniless, Sam Cooke was one of the first artists, black or white, to buck the system and demand ownership of his career. He signed an unprecedented deal with RCA in 1960 after coming to the agreement they let him retain control of the copyrights to his music. Sam Cooke was one of the first artists to capitalize on the crossover appeal of popular music by intentionally recording songs that targeted both the black and white markets. He was the first African-American artist to own a record label, and he established his own management company and music publishing company as well. Even more remarkable, he did all of these things before his 34th birthday.
Overshadowing his photogenic smile and business acumen, however, were Cooke's distinctive tenor and his unique, shivery way of hitting the high notes; this style would later become a trademark of soul singers like Otis Redding and Al Green, but it was something he had perfected ages ago when singing lead in a gospel quartet that sometimes pitched their harmonies too high by habit. It was this borrowing from one African American musical genre to help create another that added to Cooke's achievement, and made his untimely death all the more tragic.