A Sign Revealed in Bronzeville

A Sign Revealed in Bronzeville

(More pictures below)

36th Street between Cottage Grove and Ellis Avenue on Chicago's South Side is now known as "Sam Cooke Way."  The new street signs were revealed during a delightful celebration on Saturday, June 18. The signs honor singer Sam Cooke, whose musical legacy brought him worldwide acclaim in the late 1950s and early 1960s.   In 1986 his fame also earned him posthumous  entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Cooke's voice was characterized by a melodic, legato style that easily moved listeners.

Commentary from the crowd
A spectator's commentary

As a youth, Cooke lived at 3527 S. Cottage Grove Avenue.  His family later settled at 724 E. 36th Street near Ellis.  The Sam Cooke Way ceremony took place at the corner opposite  that latter site beneath an honorary sign.   3rd ward Alderman Pat Dowell told the energetic and reverent crowd that she was impressed by the large number of observers present.  Other speakers included a representative of 4th Ward alderman Will Burns; Erik Greene, grand-nephew of Sam Cooke; as well as Gregg  Parker, executive director of the Chicago Blues Museum, who coordinated much of the event. They were all pivotal in gaining the city's cooperation for the event.   Phillips High School alumni and Sam Cooke fan club members were also present.  Famous soul crooner Jerry Butler, who happens to be Cook County commissioner, spoke briefly, declaring  June 18th as Sam Cooke Day.

Pat Dowell, Jerry Butler, and Gregg Parker
Ald. Pat Dowell, Cook County commissioner Jerry Butler, and Gregg Parker

Eugene Jamison and Wayne Baker Brooks
Cooke relative Eugene Jamison and Wayne Baker Brooks, son of bluesman Lonnie Brooks

Erik Greene, author of  his great-uncle's biography, "Our Uncle Sam,  From His Family's Perspective" (available at here),  led the ceremony along with legendary WVON disc jockey Herb Kent. Narration on Greene's website asserts that Cooke is considered by many to be the inventor of soul music, and that Cooke's  "You Send Me," released in the late 1950s, is widely recognized as the first soul song.  Other speakers who knew Cooke noted that the sign's wording aptly describes the man they remember. Cooke relative Eugene Jamison concurred:   "Sam Cooke always did things his way.  He wore a natural when most other singers were processing their hair.  He formed his own publishing company.  He invented soul."

Herb Kent and Erik Greene
Emcee Herb Kent and Cooke's grand-nephew, Erik Greene

Cooke was born on January 22, 1931 in Clarksdale, Mississippi and died in 1964. He graduated from Wendell Phillips High School in 1948. Phillips, located at 244 E. Pershing Road, continues to operate to this day.  Cooke's picture hangs in the school's hall of fame.  Prior to his soul success, Cooke was a member of the legendary Soul Stirrers Gospel group.  Former Soul Stirrer LeRoy Cruse came from Florida just for the celebration.

Cooke classmate with yearbook
Classmate of Cooke displays 1948 yearbook...

Sam Cooke yearbook photo
... featuring Cooke's signed photo (bottom row, center)

Leroy Cruse
Leroy Cruse, former Soul Stirrer

The program culminated with past soul stars extemporaneously singing snippets of their signature hits from "back in the day" as the audience swooned, cheered and provided background vocals.  An original member of The Notations, Clifford Curry, and subsequent member, Michael Thurmond, recalled their 1970 hit song, "I'm Still Here."  Alphonse Franklin,  a former lead singer of The Miracles sang an impromptu vignette as well.  Ruby Andrews rocked the crowd with "Casanova."  However, the day's showstopper was a local youngster who had begged to sing and be part of things from the time the ceremony began.  His name was Tariq Griffin.  He sang the Cooke classic, "A Change Is Gonna Come."  His finale brought overwhelming applause from the audience. Check out the video of his performance here.

Clifford Curry & Michael Thurmond
Clifford Curry and Michael Thurmond of The Notations

Alphonse Franklin
Alphonse Franklin, former lead singer of The Miracles, croons to the crowd

Herb Kent and Ruby Andrews
Herb Kent and Ruby Andrews

Tariq Griffin
Young showstopper Tariq Griffin


All photos by Alice B. unless otherwise noted.

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