Leslie Odom Jr. spoke with Patrick Ryan of USA TODAY about his role as Sam Cook in Regina King̵
Attention spoiler! Contains details of the final scene of “One Night in Miami,” now streaming on Amazon Prime.
“One Night in Miami” leaves you in high spirits.
The civil rights drama (now streaming on Amazon Prime) depicts a fictional encounter between four Black legends – Sam Cook (Leslie Odom Jr.), Malcolm X (Kingsley Ben-Adir), Jim Brown (Aldis Hodge) and Cassie Clay (Eli). Goree) – while discussing activism and art in a Miami motel room.
The film ends with a tearful performance of Cook’s “Change Will Come” on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in February 1964, crossing scenes with Malcolm and his family fleeing their burning house after a fire bomb attack. and Cassius changed his name to Mohammed Ali upon joining the nation of Islam. This is an electrifying moment, made even more powerful, knowing the real story behind the song itself.
“I know the price of my words”: Leslie Odom Jr. finds her voice as Sam Cook in “One Night in Miami”
Cook himself was partly inspired by Bob Dylan
In the summer of 1963, Cook received a copy of Bob Dylan’s new album, “The Freewheelin ‘Bob Dylan,” from his friend and business partner JW Alexander. As screenwriter Camp Powers portrays in the film, Cook is deeply affected by one piece in particular: “Blowin ‘in the Wind,” the folk singer’s meditative protest song, which became an anthem for both civil rights and anti-war movements. Vietnam.
“(Cooke) hears the song ‘Blowin’ in the Wind, ‘written by this young white kid, and it shakes him,” says Odom. “He covered the song and recorded his own version (in 1964), but he can’t quite shake off the little shame that he didn’t write such a song.”
Cook was similarly moved by the march in Washington in August 1963, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. But it was an experience that in October – when Cook and his entourage were repulsed by the only white Holiday Inn hotels in Shreveport, Louisiana, even though they had reservations – he was said to have “directly triggered” him to write “Change will come , “says Peter Guralnik, author of” Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cook. ”
“Sam refused to back down,” Guralnik said. “His protests were so long and strong that his wife, Barbara, was sure he would be killed. He was eventually arrested and imprisoned for disturbing the peace. He did the show tonight, but he never forgot his experience.”
His associate said “sounds like death”
Cook said that the lyrics to “A Change is Gonna Come” came to him in a dream just after Christmas 1963, and he recorded the song in January. Singing over wild strings and funeral horns, Cook nods to his religious upbringing – born in Mississippi and raised in Chicago by his father’s minister – and longs for the day when blacks and whites are equal. With the text of the text “It is too difficult to live / but I am afraid to die” he painfully conveys the physical and emotional victims of discrimination.
“It was obvious to everyone how excited he was about the song, how proud he was of it – but he didn’t seem to be bothered by it either,” says Guralnik. “When he asked his guitarist, Bobby Womack, Bobby said, ‘Sounds like death.’ And for Sam, that may have reflected some of the sinister attitude toward the way he came into being. ”
“Change” appeared on Cooke’s 11th and final studio album, “Ain’t That Good News,” released in February 1964, but did not attract immediate attention. In fact, he is known to have performed only once in public in his life, and that was on the Tonight Show. After achieving crossover pop success with Top 10 hits, including “Chain Gang” and “Twistin ‘the Night Away,” he probably thought the sad lyrics and complex arrangement of the song were not appropriate for his more optimistic club shows.
“I wasn’t a big hit and he was a big hit artist. He was one of the most popular pop artists of his time, which is another reason why I think it’s such a remarkable song,” says Dr. Charles L. Hughes. author of “Country Soul: Music and Competitions in the American South.”
“Change” came out just two weeks after Cook’s assassination at the age of 33 on December 11, 1964, and was quickly embraced by civil rights activists. It was later recorded by Otis Reading in 1965 and Aretha Franklin in 1967.
“In the late ’60s, that was the standard for R&B performers,” says Hughes. “He was reflected by a few artists who either knew Cook or were extremely influenced by him and recognized his power. Then he just became part of the way we think of Sam Cook in a really really wonderful way because he was where he was. it was going, but it also didn’t have to land when it was first launched. “
The song resonates now more than ever
In recent years, Change has been performed by artists including Beyonce, Jennifer Hudson, Celine Dion and Patti LaBell. In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked it 12th on the list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, and in 2007 the song was selected for storage by the Library of Congress’s National Archives Registry for its historical and cultural its meaning.
Nearly 60 years after Cook recorded the song, “Change” is as relevant and powerful as it was then, especially in light of last summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and last week’s attack on the U.S. Capitol by pro-Trump rebels waving flags. of the Confederation.
“Its main message is really at the heart of the cultural experience of blacks in the United States,” Hughes said. “On the one hand, Cook describes the depth of horror, the depth of violence, the depth of challenge. He tries to be honest and make us honest about what that means in a white Suprematist state with a white history of supremacy.”
On the other hand, he’s trying to hold on. He’s hoping, but he’s just trying to survive. He says “change will come,” although his voice and the way he trembles suggest that maybe he’s not so which is part of what makes it so brilliant: He insists that we insist on survival and try to find a way to a better place, but we also have to be honest about what that means and how worried he is. ”
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