Tag Archives: Herb Kent

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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The Temptations: My Quintessential Quintet

My all-time favorite musical group is the Temptations. Although the lineup has changed over the decades,  Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, David Ruffin and Paul Williams (no relation to Otis) are the men that first come to mind.

At an early age, I learned how to play 45s on my parents’ Curtis Mathes console–the large floor model in the living room that contained a television, an am/fm radio and a record player. After going through everyone’s records, I compiled my own stack. The Way You Do the Things You Do, I Wish It Would Rain and I’ll Be in Trouble stayed on the turntable. My Girl came later. It was not unusual for my mother to find me on the floor with my head next to one of the speakers. I was hooked on the harmonies; the lyrics were easy to learn and I was mesmerized by the melodies.

As a high school student, my R&B tastes shifted to the Gap Band, the Jacksons, Parliament/Funkadelic, plus thanks to two FM stations, WDAI and WFYR, I was exposed to bands like Genesis, Foreigner and the Police. My musical horizons expanded, but the Temptations were never left behind. Listening to Richard Pegue’s “Best Music of Your Life,” first on WGCI-AM, then WVON, and Herb Kent’s weekend shows on V-103 introduced me to b-sides, album cuts and other gems: You’ve Got to Earn It , Born to Love YouAll I Need and I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You). I loved their five-part harmony as Eddie, Paul and David traded lead vocals on various selections. Remember the four-headed microphone?

As a grown woman, I savored the sight of five handsome, impeccably dressed men—all six feet tall—who danced flawlessly. I still do. Each member possessed his own distinctive style. Eddie had a soothing falsetto and a smile that could melt ice. David could ‘beg and plead for sympathy’ better than anyone else on vinyl. Melvin’s booming bass was authoritative, yet comforting. Otis was a strong and steady baritone/second tenor. And then there was Paul, my favorite Temptation.

Why Paul?  I’ll give you three reasons: Don’t Look Back, Just Another Lonely Night and  For Once in My Life. In the first two songs, Paul’s slightly hoarse vocals were cool, calm and confident. Yet, it was his emotional, show-stopping rendition of For Once in My Life on TCB, a 1968 television special with Diana Ross and the Supremes, that is considered by many, including myself, as Paul’s definitive performance. What made this ballad so powerful to me was his vulnerability, perhaps caused by the weight of the personal demons he battled. A couple years ago, I watched the video on YouTube and was moved to tears. Reading viewer comments, I realized I was not the only one who cried at the computer.

Thanks for reading this; please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Temptations song and which Temptation you liked the most. 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.