ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

Now, the story of a song from the Civil Rights era - "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke. It was entered this year into the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress, deemed worthy of preservation for all time. This month, we have profiled several of those recordings. They come to us from producer Ben Manila.

(Soundbite of archived recordings)

Unidentified Man: Ladies and gentlemen, (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of song, "Respect")

Ms. ARETHA FRANKLIN (Singer): (Singing) R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

Mr. JOHNNY CASH (Singer): Hello, I'm Johnny Cash.

RAKIM (Singer): (Singing) I know you got soul. Brothers and sisters, hey, hey.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: Sam Cooke was a star on the gospel circuit before he started singing secular music in the mid-1950s. He had 16 Top 20 hits before he was killed under mysterious circumstances in 1964. He was just 33 years old.

We have three cast members to tell the story of "A Change Is Gonna Come." There's the author.

Mr. PETER GURALNICK (Author, "A Change Is Gonna Come"): My name is Peter Guralnick. I wrote a biography of Sam Cooke.

SEABROOK: The sibling.

Mr. L.C. COOKE (Sam Cooke's Brother): My name is L.C. Cooke. I'm the brother to wonderful and great Sam Cooke.

SEABROOK: And the queen of soul.

Ms. ARETHRA FRANKLIN (Jazz Artist): This is Aretha Franklin, and I was a very old and dear friend of Sam's.

(Soundbite of song, "A Change is Gonna Come")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) I was born by the river in a little tent. Oh, I'm just like a river. I've been running ever since. It's been a long, a long time coming, but I know my change is gonna come. Oh, yes, it will.

I first met Sam in my father's church - the New Bethel Baptist Church out in Detroit, Michigan. And Sam and The Soul Stirrers - that is the group - which he led for many years, a gospel - giant gospel group, came to the church for a program that we would have.

(Soundbite of song, "Jesus I'll Never Forget")

Mr. SAM COOKE (Singer): (Singing) Jesus.

THE STIRRERS (Group): (Singing) Jesus, I'll never forget.

Mr. S. COOKE: (Singing) What you've done for me?

THE STIRRERS: (Singing) What you've done for me.

Ms. FRANKLIN: We would have weekly after-church services, and he and The Soul Stirrers and a number of other people came to the church for the program. And of course, L.C., his brother, was with him that day.

(Soundbite of music)

THE SOUL STIRRERS: (Singing) I'll never forget.

Mr. L.C. COOKE: Sam told me - he said, L.C., I'm never going to work in light. So I said, what do you mean you're never going, he said, I think I'm never going to have a job. I said, why are you not going to have a job? I said, papa works. I see, but I know got a job. He said, but L.C., he said (unintelligible) to Zion to keep you working from payday to payday. He said, come Friday, you're broke. He said, therefore, I don't ever want to have no job, he said, because I want to have money in my pocket every day. So I said, Sam, what are you going to do? He said, I'm going to sing for a living. And he used to get these Popsicle sticks, you know, wooden sticks. And Sam would stick these sticks in the ground. He had 12 of them. And he would sing to them.

And so one day, I (unintelligible) him, I said, what are you doing with these sticks, man? He said, I'm putting these sticks in the ground to get myself accustomed to singing to people. He said these sticks represent people to me. He said, therefore, I'll never be scared to sing before a crowd. He said, I'm preparing myself because like I told you, I'm never going to have a nine-to-five job. And believe me, he never had one.

(Soundbite of song, "A Change Is Gonna Come")

Mr. S. COOKE: (Singing) It's been too hard living, but I'm afraid to die. And I don't know what's up there beyond the sky. It's been a long, a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come. Oh, yes, it will.

Mr. GURALNICK: The inspiration for "A Change Is Gonna Come" really came from three different directions. One was the civil rights movement which heated up so much in 1963. Sam Cooke and his business partner and friend J.W. Alexander - they spent a good deal of time with student sit-ins. The other two elements that inspired the song were Sam's hearing Bob Dylan's "Blowing In The Wind," which J.W. Alexander gave him as a gift.

(Sounbite of song, "Blowing In The Wind")

Mr. BOB DYLAN (Singer): (Singing) How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?

Mr. GURALNICK: He was absolutely fascinated by the song. He was inspired by the song. And he's challenged by it in the sense that he told J.W. that this was a white boy who had written that he was ashamed not to have written something like that himself. The direct inspiration for "A Change Is Gonna To Come" came from his rest in Shreveport, Louisiana, for attempting to register at a motel, which had accepted his reservation and then turned him away at the door. He was thrown in jail. He refused to be turned away from the hotel. He was so persistent in protesting this. That his wife and his brother Charles said, Sam, they're going to kill you is you keep this up. And he goes, they're not going to kill you. I'm Sam Cooke.

(Soundbite of song, "A Change Is Gonna Come")

Mr. COOKE: (Singing) I go to the movie and I go downtown. Somebody keep telling me, don't hang around. It's been a long, a long time coming, but I know change is gonna come. Oh, yes, it will.

Mr. GURALNICK: Once it came out, it was adopted almost immediately by the civil rights movement. It became a kind of anthem, and Sam donated it, actually, to a tribute to Martin Luther King's Southern Christian leadership conference in the summer of '64.

Mr. L.C. COOKE: He always had a message in the song. He always had a story to tell you. And "A Change Is Gonna Come" tells you a story. And plus, you know, over hundred and ten people have recorded that song.

(Soundbite of song, "A Change is Gonna Come")

Mr. OTIS REDDING (Singer): (Singing) I was born by the river.

Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) In a little tent, oh, just like the river I've been running ever since.

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing) It's been long, long time coming, but I know, I know, that change is going to come.

Mr. GURALNICK: Being the great artist that Sam Cooke was, he inspired many, many male vocalists to emulate and, of course, on the R&B circuit, which was the rhythm and blues circuit, most male singers picked that song up. Everybody across the country - male and female vocalists - were singing "A Change Is Gonna Come."

(Soundbite of song, "A Change Is Gonna Come")

Ms. FRANKLIN: (Singing) I was born by the river…

As a young artist, I went out with him on tour. It was the first tour that I actually ever went out on. And I was about 17, and I was just overwhelmed because I was going to be singing with Sam Cooke. I didn't want any money. Who needs money? You know, that kind of thing. Money? Who's talking about money? I'm going to sing with Sam Cooke and that was it. Of course, I did get paid.

But it was just a tremendous, tremendous moment for me, particularly, feeling the way that I felt about him. Not so much in a romantic sense but I just adored him as a person - as a man. Young man of a religious background and upbringing who had very strong principles and morals and good looking too, I mean, please. What else could you ask for? And he could sing. He was one of the greatest male singers of all time. You put him in the category with Caruso and Pavarotti and these other great names. Sam Cooke, bar none, was one of the greatest singers of all time.

(Soundbite of song, "A Change Is Gonna Come")

Mr. COOKE: (Singing) It's been a long, a long time coming but I know that change is gonna come.

Mr. L.C. COOKE: He can just touch to black people. He touched white people. He touched everyone. And when you get a song that touched everybody, then you got something.

(Soundbite of song, "A Change Is Gonna Come")

Mr. S. COOKE: (Singing) Then I go to my brother…

Mr. L.C. COOKE: And believe me, Sam made it.

SEABROOK: Our feature was produced by Ben Manila. Hear more at npr.org/music.

(Soundbite of song, "You Send Me")

Mr. S. COOKE: (Singing) Darling, you send me. I know you send me. Darling, you…

SEABROOK: We'll send you off tonight with more Sam Cooke, and with these parting words from an ancient source - the Roman poet Ovid. He wrote: Jove, send me more such afternoons as this.

That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News for this afternoon.

I'm Andrea Seabrook. Have a great week.

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