In the wake of nationwide heartache following the news of George Floyd's death, there is a growing urgency to support the Black Lives Matter cause. Generations of soul artists have contributed to the movement through anthemic songs of protest and statement albums that have begun and furthered the conversations addressing racism, violence and disillusionment.
In this ongoing series, we highlight the songs of the Black Lives Matter movement that launched and empowered people's pleas for a brighter future. Check back in weekly to listen and learn about the songs that have unified people throughout history to stand up for racial equality.
Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come"
Many soul artists took to the stage during the civil rights era as children raised in the church. Aretha Franklin's roots in gospel emerged as she began singing onstage at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan as the daughter of the prominent Reverend C.L. Franklin. Nina Simone, a preacher's daughter from North Carolina, seamlessly transitioned between gospel music and the blues as she explained, “Negro music has always crossed all those lines,” she said, “and I’m kind of glad of it. Now they’re just calling it soul music."
However, for some, the transition was not to be taken lightly. Sam Cooke, son of Reverend Charles, feared he would upset his gospel audience by pursuing more secular forms of music and released his first pop single "Loveable" in 1956, under the pseudonym "Dale Cooke."
Just six years later, by the time of the March on Washington, Cooke would have secured his place in the pop world with crossover hits, including 1957's "You Send Me" and 1961's "Cupid." But it was upon hearing Bob Dylan's eloquent protest song, "Blowin' in the Wind," built from the melody of the spiritual "No More Auction Block," that would inspire Cooke to voice his own support for the progressive movement.
ON THE SONG'S INSPIRATION:
When Cooke first caught wind of Dylan's revolutionary tune, music critic Peter Guralnick writes in Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, he “was so carried away with the message, and the fact that a white boy had written it, that . . . he was almost ashamed not to have written something like that himself."
The soul singer was further intrigued when he heard the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary cover Dylan's song on the radio, as Daniel Wolff explained in his 1995 biography of Cooke, proving that "a tune could address civil rights and go to No. 2 on the pop charts."
KEY LYRIC: "It's been a long, a long time coming/ But I know a change's gonna come, oh yes, it will!"
Cooke would record the song by January 1984 and debut the song in his first and final public performance of the song on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. In just over three minutes, Cooke would weave through moments of fear and exhaustion to culminate in a lasting 60s anthem that not only charted Top 10 on the R&B charts, but also sustained and continues to nurture the conviction that a real change is gonna come.
There are many ways people can support the movement against police violence and provide relief to the communities who have been impacted by police racism. Help the family of George Floyd HERE. Fight for Breonna Taylor HERE. Help the family of Ahmaud Arbery HERE.
Want to help protesters? Donate to one or more community bail funds HERE. Visit Movement For Black Lives for additional ways you can help the cause. Want to connect with leaders building grass roots campaigns? Click HERE. Are you an ally and want to learn more? Here are some anti-racism resources.