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Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Soul > Pop > Sam Cooke - Legend (Documentary)

Sam Cooke – Legend


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B     Documentary: B



Issued as part of ABKCO Records’ first wave of remarkable Super Audio CDs of Same Cooke, the Legend DVD-Video offers a 70-minutes-long version of the exceptional VH-1 Legends series broadcast focusing on the all-time music great, then adds two hours of unseen interview footage that could not fit in the original program.  The result is one of the most comprehensive programs ever assembled on a single music act in documentary form.


The program takes its time in giving us Cooke’s roots and family origins, his years of growing up, his time in the church, and his rise to stardom in Gospel music.  The national success he experienced there, however remarkable for that music genre, would be topped by his groundbreaking years as one of the record industries’ top acts.  He would also be one of the very first artists to understand the need for creative control behind the scenes, legal ownership of publishing & master tape recordings, and what was talking hold as a major revolution in music thematically and technically in the early 1960s.  Horrifically, he never lived to see that promised land.


Shot under what definitely still seems like strange circumstances, Cooke had already broke down racial barriers and was supporting the then-new Civil Rights movement when a female hotel clerk shot him dead.  A proper investigation was never fully implemented, but something will never be right about it.


The majority of the main program is devoted to his musical awakenings, innovations, appeal, stunning commercial success (especially for an African-American in the late 1950s), his time as the #2 artist behind Elvis Presley at RCA, an unusually rich focus on his family and faith, and his amazingly good taste in music.  He was a song stylist, as well as one of the greatest voices ever committed to a song recording.  The 70-minutes never gets dull, feels padded out, or becomes repetitious.  It is one of the greatest stories of music ever told.


The full-screen image is the usual documentary combination of old film, videotape, and kinescope footage that is both full color and monochrome.  It also comes along with stills and analog NTSC color videotaped footage of interviewees including Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Bobby Womack, Lloyd Price, Lou Adler, Luigi Creatore, and a very generous number of Cooke family members reflecting on Sam and his permanent place in world music.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is not bad, but the songs are absolutely no match for the sound on even the CD tracks of the new SACD releases of Cooke’s music, including titles like Ain’t That Good News, Keep Movin’ On, Sam Cooke – Portrait of a Legend 1951 – 1964, Sam Cooke at the Copa, Tribute to a Lady (oddly not available in the U.S. or Canada), and Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story.  The combination is of the technically above-average kind typical of most documentaries.


The two hours of interviews are a huge enhancement of the main program, while a nicely presented discography covers all his singles and albums, which are quite long lists.  The packaging might be of the controversial thin DigiPak type used on titles like Panic Room, Grease and Saturday Night Fever, but its fullness and reach should not be underestimated.  This Legend presentation is a most fitting tribute and great companion to the SACD re-issues, also reviewed on this site when we return.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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