Sam Cooke, was an American gospel, R&B, soul, and pop singer, songwriter, and entrepreneur. He is considered to be one of the pioneers and founders of soul music. He is commonly known as the King of Soul for his distinctive vocal abilities and influence on the modern world of music. His contribution in pioneering soul music led to the rise of Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and popularized the likes of Otis Redding and James Brown.
Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, and a further three after his death. Major hits like “You Send Me”, “A Change Is Gonna Come”, “Cupid”, “Chain Gang”, “Wonderful World”, and “Twistin’ the Night Away” are some of his most popular songs. Cooke was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the American Civil Rights Movement.
On December 11, 1964, Cooke was fatally shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 33. At the time, the courts ruled that Cooke was drunk and distressed, and that the manager had killed Cooke in what was later ruled a justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been widely questioned.
“Summertime” is an aria composed by George Gershwin for the 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. The lyrics are by DuBose Heyward, the author of the novel Porgy on which the opera was based, although the song is also co-credited to Ira Gershwin by ASCAP.
The song soon became a popular and much recorded jazz standard, described as “without doubt… one of the finest songs the composer ever wrote….Gershwin’s highly evocative writing brilliantly mixes elements of jazz and the song styles of African-Americans in the southeast United States from the early twentieth century.” Composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has characterized Heyward’s lyrics for “Summertime” and “My Man’s Gone Now” as “the best lyrics in the musical theater”. The song is recognized as one of the most covered songs in the history of recorded music, with more than 33,000 covers by groups and solo performers.
There are over 25,000 recordings of “Summertime”. In September 1936, a recording by Billie Holiday was the first to hit the US pop charts, reaching #12. Other notable recordings include those by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald in 1957, Sam Cooke also in 1957, Gene Vincent and Miles Davis in 1958, John Coltrane in 1961, The Marcels in 1961, The Tornadoes in 1964, Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the Holding Company on the 1968 album Cheap Thrills, Al Green on the 1969 album Green is Blues as well as The Zombies. The most commercially successful version was by Billy Stewart, who reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1966.
The Doors occasionally performed this song on stage as a medley in the middle of “Light My Fire”, which can be heard on Live in Boston. English singer-songwriter Nick Drake recorded the song in 1967 or 1968, and it is included on the posthumous anthology Tanworth In Arden. The Fun Boy Three released their version in July 1982. In 1998, Morcheeba and Hubert Laws recorded the song for the Red Hot Organization’s compilation album Red Hot + Rhapsody.
It’s summertime and the living is easy
Fish are jumping and the cotton is high
Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good looking
Hush little baby
So Don’t you cry
One of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing
You spread your wings and take to the sky
But until that morning there is nothing can harm you
With your daddy and mommy standing by
They are standing by
- Audio from the 1957 album, Sam Cooke: