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Throughout American history, white Americans have expressed fascination with black culture. This fascination was within music, film and television. White Americans have been able to safely regard African Americans without having close contact with them. In order to maintain this distance, according to Ralph Ellison in his controversial essay "Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke," white Americans have forced African Americans to put on masks which conceal their true identity. They were forced to wear a mask while they hide their true feelings inside, hide their thoughts and opinions for fear that they would be hurt in some way. By hiding their emotions, Black people, thought of themselves as stronger and more able to conquer the racial war that was being fought every day. Notably, these masks are most often worn for the sole purpose of white entertainment. A deeper purpose, however, lies beneath this mask. Ralph Ellison remarks that "the mask was the thing ... and its function was to veil the humanity of Negroes thus reduced to a sign, and to repress the white audience's awareness of its moral identification with its own acts and with the human ambiguities pushed behind the mask."
Despite the long held tradition of suppressing every weakening emotion, African-Americans nowadays express themselves in full. However the concept of masking is still common in African-American music. In some songs messages exceeds the literal meaning of lyrics, meanings are usually hidden. This kind of relation of music, text and meaning is called masking, signifying or polytonal expression.
Sam Cooke was one of that singers who was demanded extraordinary skills of translating and masking his songs. Singer and songwriter Sam Cooke was one of the popular and influential black performer to emerge in the late 1950s.
Samuel Cook was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on twenty second of January in 1931. But he grew up in Chicago, where his family moved in 1933. He was the fourth child in a big family. Sam Cooke prepared for his future by singing to an imaginary audience in backyard. By age nine, Sam's family formed gospel group called The Singing Children. His older brother Charles and sister Mary were lead singers, sister Hattie was a baritone, youngest brother L.C. sung the bass and Sam sung tenor. Sam's voice was clear, sensual, beautiful tenor. The Singing Children broke up when Sam was at High School. But he never stopped singing, because singing was his passion. Later he graduated to R.B.Robinsons High Way QCs, who gradually attained a reputation as one of the area's top gospel vocal outfits. Then he passed briefly through another prestige group, The Piligrim Travellers, before joining the immensely popular Soul Stirrers. At that time in his twenty, he was one of the most charismatic gospel performers in the country. Since then Sam Cooke had enjoyed a remarkable run of hit songs, beginning with "Lovable" and "You send Me", continuing with "Wonderful World", "Chain Gang", "Bring it on Home", "Another Saturday Night", "A Change is Gonna Come", among many others. His songs with broad appeal to all races, rated high on both the pop and R&B charts. He wrote the golden songs and sung with the golden voice.
Sam Cook was a spiritual man who's entrance into the music arena was through the church door, as with so many black artists.
In 1963 Sam Cooke first heard "Blowin' in the Wind" from Bob Dylan's new album. He was so impressed with this song and he was so carried away with the message. Sam was inspired to write something like that, to create his own protest song. Especially because it was the time of civil rights movements. The result of his inspiration was the song "A Change Is Gonna Come". The song became a sensation within the black community. It was perhaps the greatest song to come out of the civil rights struggle. Moreover this song became an anthem of the 1960s civil rights movement. However it was at the same time both more personal and more political, a song that was suggested both by the civil rights movement and by Sam's own life circumstances.
Sam Cooke was one of the first black artists to bridge the racial divide. He was popular in both the black and white communities. However his "message songs" could be properly immediately understood only by black men or women living in the twentieth century. "A Change is Gonna Come" was one of his "message songs". Probably it was one of the first songs that made people understand how singers had been putting messages into songs a decades before that. It's lyrics could be interpreted as purely personal or having a wider political significance.
was his way of describing his life and the lives of all African-Americans. It was based on the racism which Sam came across while traveling through the segregated South. He had bad experiences in Memphis, Shreveport and Birmingham. In 1961, in Memphis, Sam Cooke took a stand against the color line by refusing to play a segregated show. Seating areas in that show were racially separated. Singers had to sing each song twice, once to the white audience and once to the black audience on the other side of auditorium. During his tour in 1963, he watched helplessly as fire hoses and dogs were turned on black children in Birmingham, Alabama. In October 1963, racial segregation affected Cooke personally. He was arrested and imprisoned after refusing to be turned away from a Shreveport, Louisiana, hotel which had initially accepted his reservation. More and more he found himself drawn into the explicit language of protest, which finally led him to record his masterpiece "A Change is Gonna Come" in December 1964.
A year after, on December 11th, 1964, in a South Central Los Angeles Sam Cooke was shot dead by hotel manager Bertha Lee Franklin, who claimed that she had acted in self-defense.
Obviously, the song acquired a greater significance when Sam Cooke died, but even without that unhappy conjunction of events it would still have been a classic. It became a song of remembrance and a song of tears. Sam Cooke was a true superstar in his lifetime. After his death, his legend became even larger.