A Change Is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke
Anyone who has seen Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X probably remembers the scene when Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” starts playing. I don’t know if my sentimental attachment and emotional reaction to this song is tied to that or not, but this song makes me want to stop time every time I hear it. I get that guttural sensation, that pull in the back on of my throat that means I might start to cry. The sparse instrumentation combined with the aching sincerity of Sam Cooke’s voice makes this song not only a classic but an integral part of the genres of soul and blues.
The track was written and released in 1965 when the social and political climate was not just the rhetoric and ideas heard on television or read in books but the daily reality of blacks everywhere. The University of Southern Mississippi had just admitted its first two black students, Raylawni Young Branch and Gwendolyn Elaine Armstrong. A peaceful march of 600 blacks who wanted to vote attemped to walk the 54 miles from Selma to Montgomery but were disrupted by policemen who gassed and beat them six blocks into it. Six months later the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed and 250,000 voters registered with Mississippi having the highest black voter turnout of 74%.
It’s such an epic song although it only includes a few different sounds: a voice, strings, horns and percussion. It’s a time capsule, a sonic telegram from the past to encourage and inspire.
I also found out [through reading the liner note’s in Aretha Franklin’s I Never Loved A Man the Way I Love You] that Sam Cooke was a friend of her and her family’s and she did a cover of this song in memory of him as a tribute. She chooses piano and organ as well as percussion for her arrangement which gives the song more of a gospel feel. It’s interesting to hear two powerful, strong voices in different registers singing the same song.
A Change Is Gonna Come – Aretha Franklin