Singer Sam Cooke was the Michael Jackson of his heyday. He was a handsome rhythm and blues crooner of color who made women swoon over his sound.
His noteworthy tunes include “You Send Me”, “Only Sixteen” and “Twistin’ The Night Away.”
Tragically, in December 1964, his life was cut short at age 33 when he took a known asian prostitute to a seedy Los Angeles motel. The motel manager, Bertha Franklin, shot and killed Cooke after he apparently went into a drunken rage and became aggressive once the hooker left his room while the singer used the bathroom.
The oriental woman claimed to police that Cooke had kidnapped her and had intended to rape her. Perhaps she lured him there to rob him while he wasn’t looking. Others theorize that Cooke was killed by music industry powers-to-be because he was in control of his own record label which was unheard of back in those days.
Over half a century since his demise, two separate feature films are being developed telling Cooke’s story from humble gospel beginnings in Mississippi to musical stardom to his despicable demise under mysterious circumstances.
One film claiming to be the authorized version is being made by ABKCO Films, part of Cooke’s former manager Allen Klein’s music empire. Klein died in 2009 but his daughter Robin is Vice President of ABKCO Music and Records Inc. while also serving as Director of Film for their motion picture division. ABKCO holds the music/movie/life story rights of Sam Cooke, purchased from his widow in 1988 for approximately $100,000.
The other unauthorized film version is being produced by musician and filmmaker Romeo Antonio who also has a background in law enforcement. He spent several years researching the murder investigation and coroner reports and is calling his project “Sam Cooke: The Truth.”
Family members of Sam Cooke are somewhat divided among both camps. Widow Barbara Cooke Womack and brother L.C. Cooke endorse the ABKCO venture while brother David, former sister-in-law Phyllis and nephew Eugene Jamison sides with Antonio.
The official stand of the Cooke family is that the ABKCO feature is supposedly the only official film version about the soul singer.
Lou Rawls Jr., the son of singer Lou Rawls and god-child of Sam Cooke, is named an associate producer in Romeo Antonio’s production. Their story is based on the B. G. Rhule biography “The Redemption of Sam Cooke.”
ABKCO Films has named Carl Franklin as director of their film project.
Romeo Antonio has hired actor Christopher Warren to portray Blues musician Hank Ballard in his production.
No word yet on who is starring as Sam Cooke in either version.
How Romeo Antonio can even make a movie about singer Sam Cooke without holding rights to his persona or music remains to be seen.
He was hoping to cast Mad Men’s Jon Hamm to portray ABKCO’s founder Allen Klein who could possibly be implicated in Cooke’s murder over musical ownership and generated royalties.
The battle of this epic biopic has begun.