If you don’t know much about the history of Sam Cooke, then you can discover what a wonderful world of music this pioneer of soul music and early rock ‘n’ roll left behind.
Performer Darrian Ford will sing the late Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s best known pop, jazz and gospel songs in the show “The Cooke Book” at the Clark State Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 15. The show is part of the Club Kuss Series.
Cooke’s name isn’t as familiar as James Brown, Aretha Franklin or a host of Motown superstars, but from 1957 to 1965 he racked up 29 Top 40 hits and blazed the trail for those performers. Cooke was blessed with looks and a great singing voice, but was also a savvy business man, being among the first rock era performers to write most of his own songs and start his own record label and publishing company.
Audiences will likely recognize the hits, such as the No. 1 smash “You Send Me,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Cupid,” “Wonderful World” and “Chain Gang.”
Ford, a veteran of Broadway and numerous musical touring shows, discovered Cooke during a show showcasing pop music of the 1950s and ’60s and was surprised to find Cooke was an accomplished jazz singer. From there, Ford found his voice, so to speak.
“I enjoy the pop music but found the real calling for my voice with Sam’s jazz songs,” he said. “When people see the show, they will be surprised at the diversity of his hits — pop, jazz and gospel.”
Maybe it was destiny. Cooke’s family moved to Chicago when he was young and harnessed his talent there. Ford was born in Chicago and some of his family knew Cooke’s siblings.
For some older audience members it’s hearing a song they’ve enjoyed for years or recognizing one they didn’t know he did. For younger members it’s enjoying these classics for the first time.
Ford emphasizes The Cooke Book is not an impersonation of Sam Cooke; it’s Ford’s interpretation of the songs. He points out the band sings and interacts with him, creating an energy that produces a lot of fun for Ford and the band, which rubs off on the audience.
“I’m out there for 22 songs, which seems like a lot of work, but when we’re out there it doesn’t feel like work. It’s about a great evening of entertainment about a soul music pioneer.”