Sam Cooke documentary recaps life, accomplishments of activist


“The Two Killings of Sam Cooke” chronicles the life of the singer, writer and political activist who used his platform as a crossover artist to create change.

The title refers to his physical death and the loss of his legacy as a civil rights activist. Cooke is also known as the father of Soul Music and inspired musical greats like Aretha Franklin and Michael Jackson. Several people who knew him worked with him and studied his life are interviewed in this documentary. Each interviewee regales the viewer with tales of courage, authenticity and soul.

The documentary begins with Sam Cooke’s early childhood in Chicago. He was born in Alabama, but his family moved to Chicago to have a better life. His father, Reverend Charles Cook, served as the leader of the Church of Christ. He taught his children to set their minds to success and fight in the face of adversity.

Cooke started his singing career in his father’s church where he was known as Sam Cook.  He did not add the “e” until 1933 when he began his musical career. After singing for many years, he joined “The Soul Stirrers,” a gospel singing group that traveled throughout the country.

Viewers then get insight into Cooke that has been hidden. After leaving “The Soul Stirrers,” he became a solo act and started touring around the country. Cooke had always been civically minded, which led him to leave the Stirrers because he wanted to create a major change in the fight for rights.

Once he started touring in the South, he was faced with the issue of playing to segregated audiences. He realized he had to stand up and say “no,” but his peers who traveled with him did not follow his actions. Billy Davis discusses how he and Cooke were the only ones who refused to perform.

The two killings in the title reference this courage and his role in the Civil Rights movement, which has largely been forgotten. When people discuss the legacy of Sam Cooke, they speak of his talent as a musician and his smooth voice, but they forget about his tenacity as a businessman and an activist. This is the first killing.

The second is his death and the way it was investigated. Those close to Cooke have doubted his death as justifiable, but they have not been able to open his case since the original ruling. The justice system then and now still ignores the importance of black lives.

“The Two Killings of Sam Cooke” illustrates the life of a man who was murdered before he reached his full potential. “A Change is Gonna Come” is the only piece remaining of the political aspirations Sam Cooke advocated for himself and his people. The documentary gives viewers a chance to imagine what he could have been and admire what he did accomplish.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)