EPISODE GUIDES Soul Deep - The Story of Black Popular Music The Gospel Highway - Ep2/6
BBC Two May 14, 9.00-10.00pm
Gospel singer Sam Cooke changed pop music forever and set the standard for every artist that followed him. His first "cross over" single from gospel to pop You Send Me sold a million worldwide and its success inspired a generation of gospel singers, including Aretha Franklin, Solomon Burke and Ben E King.
BBC Two's Soul Deep, which charts the evolution of soul music, looks at the world of black music before and after that revolutionary moment in 1957 when Cooke went pop. "You couldn't have the popular music we have today without that crossover from church to pop," explains expert Peter Guralnick. As a member of Chicago's Soul Stirrers, Cooke travelled the gospel highway (a network of black American churches) from 1950 for seven years, along with stars like Candi Staton and Mavis Staples. Candi and Mavis describe the harsh realities of racism and life on the road. But when they hit the road they were treated like superstars.
Bobby Womack says: "Sam was electrifying.The places were jam-packed - it was like Elvis Presley was coming." It was in front of these ecstatic crowds that artists like Cooke learned to work an audience. Ben E King, followed Cooke into the pop world but his biggest hit Stand By Me drew its title from a famous gospel hymn. "Stand By Me was a love song that went way beyond a love song. It has a meaning for people that I never thought it would," King explains. Not content with smashing the gospel to pop taboo,
Cooke was one of the first artists to establish control over his own music by setting up his own label - SAR.This, in turn, was to bring protegees - such as Bobby Womack and Johnnie Taylor - their first taste of fame. Cooke then went on to break-away from love songs into social relevance. After hearing Bob Dylan's iconic Blowin' In The Wind, he recorded the first political soul song A Change is Gonna Come.
Tragically, Cooke was killed in 1964 at the prime of his career but he bequeathed an extraordinary legacy, inspiring a myriad of black artists from Motown's Berry Gordy to Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin.