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Digital Classroom: Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come"

"A Change Is Gonna Come" (1964)

Sam Cooke wrote and recorded “A Change Is Gonna Come” in part as a response to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Cooke was moved and challenged by Dylan’s Civil Rights anthem, which was a hit for Peter, Paul & Mary. He felt that as an African-American he should try to write about the triumphs and struggles of the movement for his large pop audience. He wrote it in late 1963, but did not record it until almost a year later. It was released a few weeks after his death and has resonated with audiences since as a plea for equality and hope. The song mixes a lush pop arrangement with Cooke’s gospel vocals to make a sound unique in his catalog. Cooke biographer Daniel Wolff argues that the song’s greatness is how it “tries to unite its audience. ‘Change’ crosses musical barriers, combining gospel, blues, the nightclub ballad, and the protest song….All the divisions come together here—in his voice—and it carries us over.”

Lesson Plan & PowerPoint

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Sam Cooke Lesson Plan

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Sam Cooke PowerPoint

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Classroom Resources

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ESSAY: "The Change That Came: The LIfe of Sam Cooke" by PETER Guralnick

Read an essay about Sam Cooke's life and career by cultural historian Peter Guralnick. Click the link below to download a PDF of the essay, which was written for the Rock Hall's 10th Annual Music Masters, a tribute to Sam Cooke.

Sam Cooke Music Masters Essay

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Click here to download a PDF copy of the essay.



Artifact: SAM COOKE HAT, SPORTCOAT, and SHIRT (c. 1960)

Describe what you see. 
What do you observe?

  • What do items of clothing reveal about a given musician? Is musical style connected to what an artist chooses to wear—both publicly and personally?
  • The red sports coat was among Sam Cooke’s favorite apparel. (He wears something similar on the cover of his Hits of the 1950s album.) Do we connect specific artists with signature items of clothing?
  • Sam Cooke might wear something similar to this in performance, or at public appearances. How might this compare to stage outfits worn by other performers at the time?  How does this compare to stage outfits worn by performers now?

Artifact Image Download: Sam Cooke Hat, Sportcoat, and Shirt

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Use this link to download a high-resolution image for this activity.



Video: Solomon Burke on "A Change Is Gonna Come"

Solomon Burke (inducted 2001) discusses the musical intersections between gospel and pop and talks about performing the song "A Change is Gonna Come."



Video: Sam Cooke's Vocal Style

Compare Sam Cooke’s vocal style as a member of the Soul Stirrers and as a solo artist. What similarities do you hear?



Video: Art Rupe on Sam Cooke

Record Executive Art Rupe (inducted 2011) discusses Sam Cooke's transition from gospel to pop music.



Video: Harold Battiste on Sam Cooke

Producer and songwriter Harold Battiste talks about Sam Cooke's switch from gospel to pop, the arrangement of the song "You Send Me," and Cooke's business savvy.



Video: Friendly Womack, Jr., on Sam Cooke

Friendly Womack, Jr., a member of the vocal group the Valentinos, shares his memories of Sam Cooke and talks about Cooke's label, SAR Records.



Essay: SAR Records

Read an essay about SAR, the record label Sam Cooke co-founded in 1959. Cooke was increasingly engaged with the business as well as the creative aspects of the music industry.

Essay: SAR Records

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Click here to download a PDF copy of an essay about SAR Records.