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Clip: Dave Hoekstra on the significance of "A Change is Gonna Come"

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  • Carl Z.
    Third of three Hoekstra articles on Cooke. The significance of Change October 30, 2005 One of
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 30, 2005
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      Third of three Hoekstra articles on Cooke.

      <http://www.suntimes.com/output/music/sho-sunday-cooke30b.html>

      The significance of 'Change'

      October 30, 2005

      One of the most remarkable crossover singles of the 20th century was
      Sam Cooke's "Shake" / "A Change Is Gonna Come," which scaled the
      Billboard singles charts in January 1965, a month after the singer was
      murdered in a Los Angeles motel.

      With its unusual rhythm patterns, "Shake" took soul music in a modern
      direction. And the ballad "A Change Is Gonna Come," which Cooke sang
      with poignant introspection, signaled a new era of societal change.
      "That song seemed to be written for us," said civil rights activist
      Julian Bond in an interview earlier this week. "A ... Change ... Is
      ... Gonna ... Come. Things were in the air. Things may not be OK right
      now, but they're going to get better. That was a protective song."

      "'A Change Is Gonna Come' was what we called a 'message' song," said
      Bond, who will appear Nov. 5 at a daylong conference on Sam Cooke at
      Case Western Reserve University's Ford Theatre in Cleveland, part of
      the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's "American Music Masters" series.
      (Other guests will include keynote speaker Peter Guralnick, author of
      Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke; Leroy Crume of the Soul
      Stirrers, and legendary R&B emcees Early Byrd and Gorgeous George.)
      "That was unusual. I now know that people had been putting messages
      into songs for decades before that. But for me, Sam Cooke represented
      my first consciousness of message music. You wanted something that
      spoke not just to your teenage romantic fantasies, you wanted
      something else. Not something better than that, but something
      different than that. Message songs confirmed how you felt about
      things."

      Bond began to realize the empowerment of music and the movement as
      early as 1960, when folk singer Guy Carawan was traveling through the
      South singing the melodic "We Shall Overcome," which became the theme
      song for the civil rights movement.

      "I saw Guy Carawan sing in Raleigh, N.C., at the initial conference of
      the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in April 1960," Bond
      said. "That was the first time I heard 'We Shall Overcome.' He led
      about 200, 300 of us gathered there from around the South. I don't
      think anyone said, 'Hey, this will be our theme song.' But it quickly
      became the movement song. He has the credit for making it our song."

      Bond, 65, became the first president of the Southern Poverty Law
      Center when it was established in 1971. He spent more than 20 years of
      service in the Georgia General Assembly. He currently teaches civil
      rights history at American University in Washington, D.C., and at the
      University of Virginia in Charlottesville. "I like to joke they won't
      let me teach physics," he said.

      Soul singer Solomon Burke first heard Cooke sing "A Change Is Gonna
      Come" in Spartanburg, S.C., on a package tour with Jackie Wilson and
      comic Moms Mabley. "It was an incredible moment," Burke said earlier
      this week from Los Angeles. "J.W. [Alexander, Cooke's personal manager
      and confidant] was coaching him backstage of how important it was to
      just play it without introducing it. Jackie Wilson said, 'Just hit
      it.'

      "Sam had such a presence. Women were screaming and then he'd sing, 'I
      was born by the river ... [the song's lead-in]. The impact wasn't
      spiritually that the world was going to change; it was 'Oh, my, he's
      telling us about his life.' It became a political situation as it grew
      and the things that were happening around Sam: integration,
      segregation, marches and demonstrations. It became a song of
      remembrance and a song of tears."

      Dave Hoekstra
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