Category Archives: Chicago

Sam’s Soul-Stirring Gospel

02-26-2013 08;10;16PMLast Sunday, I had the pleasure of appearing on Chicago radio station V-103 for the Battle of the Best with legendary broadcaster Herb Kent. The “Battle” is a competition featuring music by two artists, one selected by Kent and the other one chosen by the guest. Kent chose Jackie Wilson and, of course, Sam Cooke was my choice. Listeners voted for their favorite by phone or on Kent’s Facebook page. After an hour of record playing, fact sharing and trash talking, I was declared the winner! Now for part two of Cooke’s story…

Years before he became a soul music icon, Cooke was a member of the Soul Stirrers, a renowned gospel group based in Chicago in the early to mid-1950s. In the 80s, I was a teenager when I first heard Last Mile of the Way, one of the group’s best-known songs. Rev. Milton Brunson played it during his Saturday afternoon show on WXFM (105.9 FM). Devoted Chicago gospel fans will also remember Brunson as founder of the Thompson Community Singers as well as pastor of the Christ Tabernacle Baptist Church on the city’s West Side. I was stunned by the song’s beauty as well as Cooke’s vocals. I knew some of his R&B tunes, but was thrilled to hear him sing gospel.

Born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on January 22, 1931, Cooke was almost two years old when his family migrated to Chicago’s South Side, eventually settling at 3527 So. Cottage Grove. As a child, he sang with his siblings at a church pastored by his father in Chicago Heights, about 30 miles outside the city. Cooke was 19 when he joined the Soul Stirrers in 1950.

Sharing lead vocals with Paul Foster, Cooke and the group recorded a string of gospel gems on Specialty Records, including Just Another Day, Touch the Hem of His Garment and Be With Me, Jesus—many of them written or arranged by the handsome lead singer. If you listen to those recordings, you can hear the distinctive phrasing, the trademark yodel and other vocal acrobatics that would one day earn him the title, ‘The Man Who Invented Soul.’

Cooke’s ability to whip crowds into a spiritual frenzy only intensified as the Soul Stirrers toured the country. A July 1955 appearance at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles would place him on the path to becoming a secular artist. The group sang extended versions of their most popular recordings, including another Cooke composition, Nearer to Thee. During this performance, he added new verses that ensured an emotional response from the audience. Listen to how he, trading ad-libs with Foster, steadily builds the crowd’s excitement, singing about how “bad company will make a good child go astray” and finding his mother “with folded arms…looking up toward the sky” with tears streaming down her face.

It was the Shrine appearance that made Specialty’s A&R man Bumps Blackwell urge Cooke to consider pursuing a pop career. By December 1956, he had recorded Lovable, a secularized version of the group’s hit, Wonderful. Concerned about the possible backlash from the religious community, he used the pseudonym Dale Cook. Of course, no one was fooled. According to Peter Guralnick, in the book Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, several gospel singers and fans tried to persuade the charismatic performer not to switch to popular music. Gospel deejays and concert promoters said he was making a huge mistake.

However, in April 1957, Cooke recorded his final session with the Soul Stirrers. Ironically, those songs which included, That’s Heaven to Me, Were You There and Lord, Remember Me could have easily been pop or doo-wop records. The next month, Cooke left Chicago and the group, and moved to Los Angeles. He signed a deal with Keen Records and four months later, You Send Me was on its way to the top of the pop and rhythm and blues charts.

Thanks for reading this; please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite gospel song by Sam Cooke. 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.

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Natalie, Chuck and Marvin: A Musical Match Made in Chicago

When I think of successful songwriter/singer partnerships, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Hal David come to mind. Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, joined by Lamont Dozier, who penned countless hits for the Supremes and the Four Tops, also make the list. Future blog posts will focus on these and other remarkable collaborations.

In the mid 70s, a musical alliance was formed in Chicago that launched singer Natalie Cole into R&B superstardom. She began working with the songwriting/production team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy. According to Robert Pruter in the book, Chicago Soul, Jackson, a commercial art major who minored in music while attending college, moved to Chicago in 1968 to work as an art director for Playboy magazine. However, music remained his first love. Two years later, Jackson, who is also a half-brother of civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, left Playboy to join a songwriters workshop founded by Jerry “the Iceman” Butler.

Yancy was a gifted musician who eventually succeeded his father as pastor of Fountain of Life Baptist Church on Chicago’s South Side. A graduate of Cooley High School who later attended Moody Bible Institute and the Chicago Bible Institute, Yancy played keyboards for gospel legends including Rev. James Cleveland, Jessy Dixon, Inez Andrews and Albertina Walker during the late 60s.

 The two men met in 1971 at Operation PUSH’s Black Expo, while Yancy accompanied Albertina Walker on piano. They became fast friends and ultimately formed a production company that resulted in some of Cole’s most memorable songs. This Will Be, a Jackson/Yancy composition, was the first hit released in 1975 from her debut album, Inseparable, on Capitol Records. The title track was the album’s second #1 single.

 I remember hearing This Will Be as a child, thinking it was an Aretha Franklin record—so did many others. Cole often cited the Queen of Soul’s influence and frequently performed her songs while playing the lounge circuit. Ironically, it was this recording which earned Cole a 1976 Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance–Female, ending Franklin’s eight-year winning streak in that category. Cole also received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist.

My two favorite Yancy/Jackson/Cole songs are I’ve Got Love on My Mind (Unpredictable LP, 1977, Capitol) and Our Love (Thankful LP, 1977, Capitol). When either song comes on the radio, whether I’m among a group of friends or strangers, a flash mob karaoke experience happens. Everyone sings the lead and the chorus; some of us even imitate the instruments and ad-libs. That’s when you know a song is great!

Please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Natalie Cole songs and why you like them. Thanks for reading this!

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.

Welcome to Sounding Off: Musical Reflections and Recollections

This is the first entry of my new blog, Sounding Off: Musical Reflections and Recollections. I regularly read about music, own countless CDs, 45s and albums ( yes, albums) and watch whatever videos I can find on YouTube. I’m excited about the chance to share my passion with others. While my love  for classic R&B (aka “dusties”) is unapologetic and undeniable, I also look forward to writing about other genres –blues, gospel, jazz, pop and rock.

I grew up on Chicago’s South Side during the 1970s. The Jackson Five’s “Rockin’ Robin” was the first record I remember hearing on WVON Radio. I immediately became a devoted fan of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael. On Saturdays, must-see TV meant watching the Jacksons’ morning cartoon, American Bandstand, then Soul Train in the afternoon. My mother bought a box of Alpha-Bits cereal, at my request, because it contained stickers of the handsome brothers from Gary. A subscription to Right On! magazine was inevitable, but still several years away.

In those days, my dad and I purchased 45s from Joe’s Records near 35th and Giles and Metro Music at 87th and Harper. Many of my selections were influenced by WVON’s playlist and included The Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat,” the Jackson Five’s “Dancing Machine,” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay.”  The radio station was a powerhouse in the black community, where Herb Kent, Richard Pegue, Joe Cobb, Bill “Butterball” Crane, Ed “Nassau Daddy” Cook and other on-air personalities worked their magic behind the microphone.

By the time I began high school in 1979, I was buying albums at a store on 63rd and Halsted. I don’t remember the name of the shop, but it was across the street from Delicious Donuts which was under the “L” station. I also shopped downtown at Rose Records on Adams and Wabash. For house music and 12-inch singles of club favorites, a visit to Imports Etc. on South Plymouth Court was essential. After all these years, hearing “Situation” by Yaz still makes me shake my head, pop my fingers and wiggle my hips.

Please join me in Sounding Off by sharing memories about the records you bought and where you bought them. Thanks for reading this!

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.