What Happened To The Great Sam Cooke?
In the early 1960s, Sam Cooke’s smooth, golden voice is all over the radio. His recordings are top hits and enjoyed by all races. At the pinnacle of success in his chosen field, he conquered the recording industry as singer, composer and entrepreneur. Then disaster struck….this is the story of Sam Cooke’s mysterious death.
Who Was Sam Cooke?
If you were old enough in the late 1950s to early 1960s, you couldn’t avoid the smooth, soulful vocals of young Sam Cooke. His natural voice rang with a distinctive sound that no one else possessed, even to this day. But more than a singer, he’s a songwriter, composer, and industry entrepreneur. Known as the “King of Soul,” his contributions to the music industry make it possible for the rise of Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and James Brown, among other stars.
Cooke’s hits include “You Send Me,” “Chain Gang,” “Cupid,” “Bring It On Home To Me,” “Another Saturday Night,” and a song he penned that became an anthem for the civil rights movement, “A Change Is Gonna Come,” considered one of the most important songs in African-American musical history. He also made gospel songs popular for young people, notably “Touch The Hem Of His Garment,” which reached your heart even if you weren’t religious. Cooke didn’t rest on his vocal talent, but went on to found his own record label (SAR Records) and publishing company. He was on top of the world and seemed to have it all.
A Change Gonna Come
Death Comes Violently
On December 11, 1964 police arrive at the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, where they find the body of a man who was wearing a sport jacket and shoes, and nothing else. It’s determined by the coroner that a single gunshot had penetrated his heart, causing his death. The manager of the motel, Bertha Franklin, said she shot the man in self-defense when he broke into her office/residence and attacked her. As you might have guessed, the man was singer and music industry entrepreneur, Sam Cooke. At the young age of 33 years old, his vast talent, abilities and contributions to the music industry had come to an end. Even today, the circumstances surrounding his death are disputed.
After a coroner’s inquest, the jury acquitted Franklin of murder under a finding of self-defense. However many people questioned the verdict, because of circumstantial evidence. It seems Cooke had brought a woman to the motel by the name of Elisa Boyer. She claimed she didn’t come with him willingly and that she feared rape. There were others who said Boyer was a prostitute and told this story to protect herself from the law. When questioned, she claimed to have accidentally picked his clothing up when she grabbed her things to leave, and then threw them away nearby. However there were others who said that she had taken his clothing to keep him from following her after robbing him. It seems this entire side of the story was not followed up. When Franklin, the manager of the motel, was questioned this was her story: She said when he approached her, he was angry and thought she was in on a scam and was hiding the woman who had robbed him. He demanded to know where she was, and the manager told him she was not there. He didn’t believe her and grabbed her and they fell to the floor. She jumped up and grabbed her gun and shot him because she feared for her life. To those who knew Sam Cooke, this sounds impossible as it was not in his character. Because of opposing viewpoints, the true, complete story has never been revealed. For those who loved Sam Cooke, many believe he was killed because he was making waves in the music industry for people of African-American descent and someone wanted it stopped. If that was the case, his death didn’t deter brilliant black artists from rising to the top, it only made them more determined.
What happened afterward?
Bertha Franklin left her job at the Hacienda Hotel and her whereabouts from that time on are unknown. She sued Cooke’s estate for $200,000.00 for physical damage and mental anguish. Barbara Womack, (Cooke’s widow, who had remarried) countersued on behalf of the Cooke estate, seeking $7,000 in damages to cover Cooke’s burial. The woman at the motel with Cooke, Elisa Boyer, testified for Franklin. In 1967 a jury ruled for Franklin, but cut the award amount to $30,000.
What Do You Think Happened?
Was it a robbery? Is that why the woman took Cooke’s clothing? Or, was it as she said, she took them by accident when she grabbed her own things? Was the motel manager in on it, or innocently trying to protect herself as she claimed? Did Cooke really attack the manager or was he just mad about being “taken?” What was the real story? No one really knows and it depends on which speculation sounds right to you.
Sam Cooke’s Gravesite in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale California.