He started out singing gospel music, singing professionally for many years, until he felt the pinch of the budget, and in 1957 moved to soul music. His first single was a new version of the Gershwin tune Summertime, which was nice. The B-side, however, was a song Cooke had written, You Send Me. It was that song that took the world by storm, taking the top spot on the Billboard Pop chart for three weeks, and spent six weeks atop the R&B chart.
Over the next several years, Cooke was making his own hits, with songs like Chain Gang, I'll Come Running Back to You, Only Sixteen, and, in 1959 Cooke co-wrote a song with Herb Albert and Lou Adler that was released in 1960, and became an instant staple. The song is Wonderful World. While it never hit #1 on the Billboard charts, it did score in the Top 20 for Cooke, and was covered by countless artists, from Bryan Ferry in 1974 to Herman & the Hermits in 1964.
Between his first single in 1957 and his last in 1964, Cooke had 29 Top-20 hits on the Billboard charts, an amazing thing. He was writing many of his own hits, as well as hits for others. Songs like Cupid, Twisting The Night Away, Bring It On Home To Me, and Another Saturday Night. In April of 1964, he performed on American Bandstand and was interviewed by Dick Clark. The song he sang was Ain't That Good News.
Just 8 months after that appearance, Sam Cooke was found dead at a hotel in Los Angeles, California. He was just 33 years old. He was shot by the hotel clerk,claiming self-defense. There were many suspicious details of the night, including the fact Cooke was shot wearing only a sports coat and shoes, and nothing else. He was shot and beaten. After an inquest, his death was ruled a justifiable homicide, although many who knew Cooke were never satisfied with the hearing. After he had died, there were still recordings available to release, including the great song, A Change Is Gonna Come. It is one of the great protest songs, and many consider it the best song Cooke ever wrote.