Researching the back-stories of soul and blues legends can lead one down a disgusting, decrepit road. Not that it is anything new anymore. Fame seems to go hand in hand with infamy. It’s enough to make one think Robert Johnson’s crossroads deal was the Devil showing mercy.

As in the case of how Sam Cooke died.

If you listen to Sam Cooke you’d think that he left the church music but not the church when he crossed over to secular music. Cosmic smile. Magnetic personality. A string of soulful hits all the while fighting to not sell out too much. He’s been dead since 1964 and his best hits are simply timeless.

How Sam Cooke died…maybe.

The 50th Anniversary of Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963 came and went with a few listens. It never gets old. I’m so glad each time Emily at Blackbird Cafe plays it.

But his death is but a glimpse into what could be a much, much darker side to Mr. Cooke. He was shot in the Hacienda Hotel in Watts, Los Angeles on December 11th, 1964 where he was checked in as “Mr. & Mrs. Sam Cooke,” but it wasn’t Mrs. Cooke he was with. He was shot by the hotel manager Bertha Franklin who claimed self-defense and that he was trying to rape, “Mrs. Cooke,” aka Elisa Boyer.

There are no angels.

  • Elisa Boyer was picked up a month later agreeing to have sex with an undercover cop for $40. Charges later dropped for entrapment. Reports say she was convicted of manslaughter for shooting her boyfriend in 1979.
  • Bertha Franklin shot a patron at the Hotel six months prior.
  • Sam Cooke was rumored to have sprinkled many an offspring along his concert roots despite his marriage.

Other facts surrounding the death of Sam Cooke:

  • The money Sam Cooke took out that night to buy Christmas Gifts was never recovered.
  • Boyer & Franklin were rumored to run the scam to pickpocket wealthy guests and claim rape because, Hell, who’s saving anybody in a hotel in Watts?
  • Boyer & Franklin passed the lie detector test.
  • Etta James was quoted as saying that Cooke looked battered beyond the point of reason in his coffin.

Soul stirring for all the wrong reasons

It’s not enough to tell the kids I don’t yet have to appreciate these talents but never repeat their lives lest I whip their asses. But to find a hero anywhere, in any genre, discipline, walk of life that as isn’t as equal a whore seems impossible. But I’ve got a few more books I need to read up on regarding Sam Cooke. Maybe I can find some happy-medium.

Maybe Otis will be better.

I won’t turn that thought loose yet though.


picture credit:  quicheisinsane via Flickr

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