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It is 1959-ish and Dick Clark is asking the newly famous, chart-topping Sam Cooke why he left a career in gospel music behind to record pop songs — the genre Cooke’s people taught him to regard as “the devil’s music.” “What caused you to turn to this kind of music?” Clark wonders.

Cooke smirks and replies: “My economic situation.”

Clark laughs and praises Cooke for his honesty. What seems to be a lighthearted moment in “Sam Cooke: Crossing Over,” which airs Monday night in another of public television’s “American Masters” series, in fact underscores the dilemma presented in this unsatisfying, one-hour rush through Cooke’s career: The guy just wanted to sing and become famous.

Yet, because he died young (and at the height of the civil rights movement) he must bear some other symbolism, as required by the law of nostalgic, pop-cultural lore. And so filmmaker John Antonelli’s documentary works too hard to make a case that without Cooke, the inevitable would somehow not have occurred: There would be no gospel-inspired movement toward Motown, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and so on.

What’s best are the songs themselves, on their own. It starts with “You Send Me” in 1957, and continues for seven years with such hits as “Cupid,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Chain Gang” and “A Change Is Gonna Come,” until Cooke’s death in 1964. The glimpses of Cooke in his handsome, honey-voiced prime, seducing an American television and radio audience, are worth tuning in; 50 years on, Cooke’s groundbreaking voice still resonates so sweetly.

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Article courtesy of: Washington Post

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