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Carla Cooke preserving the musical legacy of her father — Sam Cooke |

Carla Cooke preserving the musical legacy of her father — Sam Cooke

Rex Rutkoski
Carla Cooke

When your father was one of the legendary figures in the history of contemporary music, it would be natural to think it might be challenging to forge your own identity as an entertainer.

Surely, there would be people always wanting to make comparisons or expecting you to be a female version of your dad.

Not for Carla Cooke, daughter of the beloved Sam Cooke whose hits included “You Send Me,” “Chain Gang,” “Cupid,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Wonderful World,” “Another Saturday Night” and “Only Sixteen,” among many others.

“It’s not challenging at all. I do not try to be anyone but myself. I go out on stage and do my best to sing the music to my fullest potential and hope that the audience has a good time and enjoys the show,” says the Detroit resident.

She brings that philosophy and talent on March 31 to Oakmont as her “Wondrous Stories Tour: The Music of Sam Cooke with Carla Cooke” stops at the Oaks Theater.

Why did the time seem right for this tour now?

“This is not only the right time, it’s the best time. I have been married for 30 years and we have seven children. They are all grown now and because of that I asked God to make a way for me to do what I love so much,” Cooke says. “It’s my turn to go out and celebrate the legacy of my father in song. It’s so amazing that his music is still strong as ever more than 50 years after his death (in 1964 at the age of 33). I am so humbled with each show that I perform when people come and tell me how much they enjoyed it and how it brought back so many memories for them.”

There are many reasons Sam Cooke’s music resonated, and still does, for so many people, she says.

“His tenor voice was smooth as silk. When he opened his mouth to sing, he captured the eyes, ears and hearts of everyone in the audience. It was the same with those who heard him on the turntable in their homes, at the club or on the radio,” she says.

Backed by her self-described “amazing and awesome” Agape Nation Band, she presents her dad’s material in the first half of her concert, and mixes in more of her own songs in the second half, as well as a few recorded by legendary female artists.

“I also tell the audience inside stories about my father’s life and the music that he wrote,” she says.

One of her goals for this tour is to help preserve her father’s legacy and make others aware of his contributions to music.

“My father was one of the first inductees, along with Elvis Presley, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He has received many accolades for his music and songwriting ability. His music is still played on the radio,” Cooke says. “Whenever I go to a store to shop or go out to eat my father’s songs always come up in rotation and I just smile. He is a unique, one-of-a-kind artist.

She learned from her dad’s example the importance not only of concentrating on the music but also the business side of the industry in general.

“He was the first black artist to own his own publishing company. He was one of the first black artists to own several record labels in which he wrote, produced and put out music for various artists. He educated himself and understood the business very well,” she explains.

Had Sam Cooke lived, she thinks he would have continued to be an innovator. “He would still be a music producer. He would have competed heavily with any record company in the market,” she says.

She is convinced her dad would be very happy about her tribute to him.

“I want to believe that when I sing my voice touches the hearts of people like my father did with his music. People have told me that they see my father in me,” she says. “I’m grateful that the audience has a good time with me and my band.”

Carla Cooke loves to sing. She has been doing that since she was a young girl singing in the hallway of her home, “where the acoustics were amazing,” and in the church choir. “

She is working on a new CD which she hopes to release this fall. “It will be mostly love songs. I guess I’m like my father in that area. He often wrote about love. It’s the same with me,” she says. “I hope the music and singing fills people’s hearts with joy. I hope it uplifts them and gives them something wonderful to remember.”

Just like the music of Sam Cooke.

Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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