Sam Cooke’s musical spirit lives on in Bradd Marquis tribute show

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Bradd Marquis bears more than a resemblance to the late Sam Cooke.

Before he walked on to the Baum Walker stage at the Walton Arts Center last night, a video introduced the audience to Mr. Marquis, a soul singer who first heard Cooke’s golden voice through his grandparents.

Cooke and the late great Ray Charles are responsible for creating soul music, Marquis told the crowd through the video before he burst out on stage dancing and singing Cooke’s “Twisting the Night Away,” with his six-piece band and three singers who make up his backing band, The Magnificents.

While Marquis got the audience bobbing their heads and clapping their hands, last night’s crowd was pretty mellow, but that didn’t deter him from dancing or directing the audience to sing along. By the end of the night, the crowd warmed up, answering “all the time,” to his prompt: “All love.”

Last night’s concert was a celebration of Cooke’s music and life. The soul singer died under mysterious circumstances at 33 years old but left a considerable legacy in that short time. Starting with his career in gospel music, Cooke was born in Clarksdale, Miss., in 1931, Marquis told the audience. Since his father was unable to find work in the South, the family migrated to Chicago when Cooke was 3.

“At age 9, Sam knew he wasn’t going to work for anyone,” Marquis narrated before relating that Cooke found his way into a popular gospel group, the Soul Stirrers, in the early 1950s. Then Marquis and the band took the room to church with a rendition of the group’s “Touch the Hem of His Garment.”

Marquis then described Cooke’s transition from gospel to secular music, explaining that for his first two singles, Cooke recorded under his brother’s name, Dale Cooke, because he wasn’t sure that he’d be successful. At that time, Marquis explained, there was no crossing over genres. If you left gospel for secular, there was no going back.

He added the B-side to Cooke’s second single, which was the turning point in the singer’s career. “You Send Me” launched Sam Cooke into the spotlight. The tune is now considered one of the most important rock ‘n’ roll recordings of all time, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other famous musicians have recorded the song too, including Aretha Franklin, whom Cooke knew from his days with the Soul Stirrers.

During the performance of “You Send Me” last night, the backup singers picked up verses from “Saving All My Love For You,” which is a Whitney Houston song, before transitioning back to “You Send Me.” From there they covered more of Cooke’s greatest hits, and Marquis called on the crowd to participate in a call and response a few times.

While it was faint, many audience members participated in singing “I love you, I love you, I love you,” while the other side delivered a single, sustained “I love you.” Hearing the crowd sing together was a lovely little treat during the tribute show.

As stated before, the crowd was mellow last night. Many of those gray-haired music lovers who were swaying in their chairs and bobbing their heads probably remember when some of those songs hit the radio as well as the footage from civil rights protests in the 1960s.

Marquis related that Cooke was one of the first Black artists to refuse to play the “Chitlin’ Circuit” in the South. Cooke was tired of not being able to “stay in the towns, drink from the water fountains,” he explained.

Later Cooke was one of the first Black performers on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Racists called in bomb threats when Cooke announced that he would play “American Bandstand.”

Marquis performed Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind,” explaining beforehand that Cooke considered it a civil rights song. Marquis and the band closed the evening with “A Change Is Gonna,” with Marquis pointing out that the change that Cooke sang about has come and is still growing.

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