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Cooke, Rawls bond in life and death

Published:Saturday | January 17, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Roy Black, Gleaner Writer

Singers Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls may seem far apart in their styles, but they had a lot of things in common.

Coincidentally, they also have a connection chronologically, Sam Cooke having been born in January and died in December, while Rawls was born in December and died in January. They had a close relationship, growing up in Chicago, Illinois as childhood friends.

Rawls was born there, while Cooke was born in Mississippi. Both sang in the hand-clapping, deeply spiritual churches their parents attended, and consequently, had very deep gospel backgrounds.

Cooke was born on January 22, 1931. At six years old, he joined his siblings in the family gospel group, The Singing Children. Rawls, born on December 1, 1933, became a member of his Baptist church's choir when he was seven years old.

As high-school classmates, they sang and rehearsed gospel songs together and later travelled to join The Soul Stirrers and The Pilgrim Travellers gospel groups, performing at churches and auditoriums across the US. Both men turned to secular music at about the same time in the mid to late 1950s, Cooke making the transition first while in his early 20s.

However, his first set of recordings were gospel, including Nearer to Thee, Be with Me Jesus and Touch the Hem of His Garment. Rawls also portrayed himself as a preacher of sorts in his recordings, but more of the philosophical type.

Focusing on lifestyle issues, Rawls did One Life to Live and another song in which he asks "what's the matter with the world, has the world gone mad?" He immediately answers himself: "Nothing's wrong with the world, it's the people that's in it."

On one of their tours of the US South with The Pilgrim Travellers, they were involved in a serious car accident that nearly ended their careers and lives. One passenger was killed, Cooke was slightly injured and Rawls was pronounced dead on his way to the hospital.

However, Rawls had slipped into a coma that lasted five and half days. He did not recover fully from his injuries for a year. One Life to Live, recorded some years later, seems to echo Rawls' thoughts about the accident.

Cooke, with Rawls (who later recorded his version of the song) on harmony, did the everlastingly popular Bring It on Home to Me, singing:

"If you ever change you mind

About leaving, leaving me behind

Baby bring it to me,

Bring your sweet loving,

Bring it on home to me"

Cooke passed away on December 11, 1964, after being shot by Bertha Franklin at a motel in Los Angeles, California, while Rawls died of cancer on January 6, 2006.