Monthly Archives: January 2013

A Change Is Gonna Come: Dr. King, President Obama and Sam Cooke

This is the first of a three-part series about the music of Sam Cooke. I have the pleasure of writing about this legendary entertainer one day before what would have been his 81st birthday. What makes this day even more special is that it is the national holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and President Barack Obama’s second inauguration day. One of Cooke’s most notable compositions ties these three men together in a remarkable thread of history—A Change Is Gonna Come. Cooke wrote the song in 1963, a pivotal year in the Civil Rights Movement.

January 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery for millions of African Americans. In April, Dr. King began demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, where non-violent protestors—men, women and children—were beaten by police officers, bitten by attack dogs and soaked by firemen wielding fire hoses. On June 11, weeks after the Birmingham campaign ended, President John F. Kennedy announced on national television his plan to propose a bill to Congress addressing civil rights issues including voting rights, public accommodations, school desegregation and nondiscrimination in federally supported programs. Hours following the announcement, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi. Evers was the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi. He recruited members and organized voter registration drives and economic boycotts throughout the state. His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, delivered the invocation at the presidential inauguration earlier today.

The March on Washington on August 28 drew more than 200,000 people to the nation’s capital for a political rally which culminated in Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Sadly, once again, tragedy would follow triumph. Nearly three weeks after the historic march, on September 15, a Birmingham church bombing claimed the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair. The four girls were attending Sunday school at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the starting point for many of the protests launched by Dr. King. He performed their eulogies. As the nation grieved the girls’ deaths, an assassin’s bullet would soon end another life in Dallas, and America’s sadness would only intensify.

President Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza on November 22. His successor, former vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, would eventually sign into law the legislation he introduced which became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These events and a popular song written by Bob Dylan set the stage for Cooke to compose A Change Is Gonna Come.

Dylan wrote Blowin’ in the Wind performed by folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary and released in August of 1963. According to Daniel Wolff in You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, the soul singer was impressed by Dylan’s ability to address civil rights issues in a song that was also a hit record. He was compelled to do the same and in December of that year, he did! It’s the lyrics that make Change one of the anthems of the civil rights era. Cooke wrote about being refused entry in public places, “I go to the movie and I go downtown, somebody keep telling me don’t hang around” and rejection from those who should help, perhaps the members of the clergy Dr. King addressed months earlier in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Then I go to my brother and I say ‘brother, help me please.’ But he winds up knockin’ me back down on my knees.” The song ends in a majestic climax, a testament to the strength of those who never gave up, “There were times that I thought I wouldn’t last for long. But now I think I’m able to carry on.”

Released in 1964, the song has been covered by several artists including Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Terence Trent D’Arby. Many will recall hearing it throughout Mr. Obama’s first presidential run. Others may remember hearing him use one of the lyrics during his 2008 victory speech in Chicago, “It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America.” Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi performed Change at the 2009 inaugural concert. I am certain that when Cooke wrote this song 50 years ago, he never envisioned a national holiday for Dr. King or the reelection of the country’s first African-American president whose inaugural event included an invocation by Medgar Evers’ widow.

A Change Has Come.

Thanks for reading this. Please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite rendition of Cooke’s classic song. I look forward to your response.

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.

The Spinners’ Sophisticated Soul

When I think of the best musical groups of the 70s, the Spinners easily come to mind. From 1972 until 1977, the group consisting of Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson, Bobby Smith and Philippe Wynne were mainstays on R&B as well as pop radio stations. I believe this quintet impacted 70s music, as much as the Temptations dominated the mid to late 60s.

Like the Tempts, they recorded at Motown. Two of my favorite songs from the group’s Motown era are Truly Yours and It’s a Shame. The first song features Bobby Smith’s sweet and easy vocals. The latter one was co-written and produced by Stevie Wonder with G.C. Cameron singing lead. (Cooley High fans will remember his tearjerker, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.)

In 1971, three things happened that would change the group’s fortunes. First, Philippe Wynne joined the group, replacing Cameron who departed for a solo career. Next, they signed with Atlantic Records. Finally, upon their arrival, Thom Bell asked to work with them. A successful producer, arranger and songwriter, Bell had co-written and produced several compositions for the Delfonics (La, La Means I Love You and Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time) the Stylistics (Betcha By Golly, Wow and You Are Everything) and other acts.

He had some ambitious ideas for the group. According to John A. Jackson in A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul, in the summer of 1972, the Spinners recorded four songs Bell produced. The first single, How Could I Let You Get Away, was a silky ballad that reminded many of the Stylistics. However, more radio deejays played the up-tempo “B” side, I’ll Be Around, resulting in the quintet’s first number one hit. The next release, Could It Be I’m Falling in Love was another million-selling R&B smash. The fourth song, One of a Kind (Love Affair), was included on the group’s self-titled album released in 1973, and became their third consecutive top R&B record.

Their second album, Mighty Love, released the following year, not only featured the unforgettable title track, it also contained other favorites: Since I Been Gone, He’ll Never Love You Like I Do and Love Don’t Love NobodyAlthough the Spinners were from Detroit, their Atlantic recordings exemplified the Sound of Philadelphia created primarily by Bell and his partners, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, founders of Philadelphia International Records. Meaningful lyrics backed by tight horn and rhythm sections, sumptuous string arrangements and stunning background vocals were all part of the Spinners’ trademark style. It was sophisticated soul.

Wynne was another reason for the group’s popularity. Whether he traded vocals with Smith or performed solo, Wynne was one of the best ad-libbers who ever touched a microphone. Check out the last two minutes of Mighty Love. He whoops, stutters, wails and yodels without missing a beat. Sadie is one of the best tributes to mothers ever recorded and his delivery still tugs at my heart, especially around Mother’s Day. Listen to the live, extended version of How Could I Let You Get Away and you’ll hear Wynne do some incredible impersonations of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Al Green. After he left the group to go solo, things were never quite the same.

Thanks for reading this; please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Spinners song. I look forward to your response. I’d also like to wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013!

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.