Sam Cooke (1931-1964)... grew up in the home of a holiness Baptist pastor, and began his music career as a small boy singing in the choir. By age nine, he joined one of his brothers and two of his sisters to form the Singing Children. He was baptized at age 11 at his father's Christ Temple Church in Bronzeville, Illinois. His father began traveling as an evangelist soon thereafter, and the Singing Children accompanied him. In high school, Sam sang with a gospel group called the Highway QC's. By 1951, at age 20, Sam joined the professional gospel quartet the Soul Stirrers, a group that was extremely popular but did not have a good moral testimony. "During the late 1940s, quartets had become exceptionally popular and moral laxity had subsequently infected the circuit--even to the extent of female groupies following the male groups around for casual affairs" (Viv Broughton, Black Gospel). The man who preceded Cooke in the Soul Stirrers, R.H. Harris, resigned to protest the lack of godliness. Cooke, though, thrived in this atmosphere and was extremely popular with young church women. He toured the country for six years with the Soul Stirrers, "shaping up as a sort of holy heartthrob, milking more than just spiritual fervor from his audience" (Stairway to Heaven, p. 79). Historian Tony Heilbut called Cooke "the greatest sex symbol in gospel history." By 1957, Cooke determined to entertain the world with rhythm and blues, and he was immediately rewarded with the hit "You Send Me." He had hit after hit. The one in 1962 was "Twistin' the Night Away." He formed his own record label and invested in a beer company called Cooke's Beer.
In 1959, Cooke married his second wife, Barbara Campbell. They already had an eight-year-old daughter. Later they had another daughter and a son. He was never faithful to his wives. He fathered at least two children out of wedlock and often slept with prostitutes to avoid paternity suits. Even as a young man singing with the Highway QCs, he was jailed for 90 days on a morals charge, after being caught bringing pornography to the home of a girlfriend...
On December 11, 1964, Cooke himself was shot to death at age 33. Bertha Franklin, the shooter, claimed self-defense and the coroner ruled the killing justifiable homicide. Sam had checked into a motel room with a woman, but soon thereafter she ran out of the room pulling on her clothes, with Sam following wearing only a sports jacket and one shoe. He broke down the manager's door, apparently thinking that the woman had fled there. The manager, Bertha Franklin, shot him three times and beat him with a large stick. His blood alcohol level was 0.14.