Our Featured Artist for the next two weeks is Sam Cooke. If all you know of Cooke is a few of his pop hits, you're in for a treat!

Here I can only scratch the surface of the many dimensions and great depth of the Sam Cooke story. For the definitive biography and a great read, see Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick. For a few more details there's always Wikipedia.

As a vocalist, Cooke has few peers. When Rolling Stone listed the top 100 greatest singers of All Time in 2008, only Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Elvis Presley ranked above him.

As a songwriter, Cooke has at least a dozen standards to his credit (see partial list in the Timeline). Two of his songs, "Bring It On Home To Me" and "A Change is Gonna Come" rank in my Top 100 of All Time. "Change" ranks higher than any Beatles song.

The 20-year old Cooke began his career in 1951 as the new alternating lead vocalist of the Soul Stirrers, arguably the era's top gospel group. With his irresistible voice he was an immediate sensation. By 1956 he had attracted a huge new audience of young fans and was as big a star as could be on the gospel circuit.

Cooke's first secular release under his own name, "You Send Me," featured a virtuoso vocal performance and was a huge mainstream pop success. As a cultural moment, it influenced an entire generation of young African-American singers to bring The Church to pop singing. Along with Ray Charles, Sam Cooke was a founding father of soul music.

Cooke was also a pioneer in advancing the business interests of African-American musicians. By 1959 he had founded his own record label, SAR Records; by 1963 he had obtained complete control of his own publishing and recording income. He died in December 1964 at age 33 from a gunshot wound under controversial circumstances.

I love to hear Sam Cooke's voice. A perfect summation of his studio career is available on one CD. His live performances are something else entirely. What do you think of the videos we've posted? What are your feelings about Sam Cooke and his music?

(Cooke was our Featured Artist for the weeks of April 6 and April 13, 2012.)