What are the six degrees separating Sam Cooke, Common, Kanye West, Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin, Mary Wells, and Bobby Womack & co.?

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Six Degrees of Separation: The Sam Cooke Edition
by Nia I'man Smith

This time around we’re tackling the man, the myth, THE LEGEND that is Sam Cooke. One of the first Black men to own his own record label and pave the way for artists to crossover from the sacred to the secular, Sam Cooke was one of the major R&B figures of the 1950's and 1960's until his untimely death at the hands of a woman at the age of 33. But today, we're gonna celebrate Cooke's life by mapping his relationship to other esteemed musicians. Want to know how Sam is connected to Common, Kanye West, Lou Rawls, Aretha ('Retha) Franklin, Mary Wells, Womack & Womack, and Bobby Womack? Check the connection:

Nothing Can Change This Love: Sam Cooke from the album, Mr. Soul (1963)

When I’m not busy being your “favorite museum educator’s favorite museum educator,” I like to pass the time daydreaming about which songs my future king will put on the series of mixtapes he dedicates to me in honor of our love. This song, penned by Cooke himself, is track #22 on “Damn Nia, I’m So Glad You’re My Woman: Volume 10.” Click here if your curious about what track #21 is...

The Food: Common feat. Kanye West from the album, Be (2005)

Kanye gives a nod to Cooke by sampling the piano from “Nothing Can Change This Love” for this track off of Common’s classic album,“Be”. While we’re on the subject of Common, what are y’all thoughts about his new album? I admittedly haven’t given it the in depth listen I reserve for new releases by artists I like, but I was so turned off by the single “Sweet” that I don't plan to (to quote one of his former costars, “Who you calling a bitch?”). However, for the genius that is No I.D's production, I'm willing to be convinced otherwise, so feel free to post your reviews in the comments section. I will definitely read them.

A Natural Man: Lou Rawls from the album, Natural Man (1971)

In “The Food,” Common gives a shoutout to his hometown of Chicago with the lyrics:

“You love to hear the story, again and again/
About these young brothers from the City of Wind”

And though I’m pretty sure that he was referring to Kanye and himself, it would be a damn shame if I didn't mention another Chi town native: Mr. Lou Rawls. If you went to an HBCU, you need to stand up RIGHT NOW and tip a hat or a headwrap to this drum major for HBCUs. While you're standing, groove to this song like yo' daddy and his friends used to do at the Ebony Rail back in '71.

Also, I'm giving BONUS POINTS to whoever can name the 90's sitcom that featured this song in one of its episodes. FIVE BONUS POINTS goes to whoever finds that episode online and is gracious enough to post it in the comments section.

My Guy: Aretha Franklin from the album, Runnin Out of Fools (1964)

While we're standing for Lou, let us not forget the fact that as host of “UNCF An Evening of Stars”, this man consistently gave Black America the best four hours of Saturday afternoon entertainment that one without cable could ask for. The highlight of those four hours always being the tributes to the “UNCF Award of Excellence” honorees, which in the past have included the likes of Chaka Khan, Qunicy Jones, and Mr. Rawls himself. In 2007, the “Queen of Soul” or 'Retha (as we all know and love her) got her dues. Check out what 'Retha does with this cover of Smokey Robinson's penned and produced hit of 1964.

My Guy: Mary Wells from the album, Mary Wells Sings My Guy (1964)

While I love 'Retha's gospel tinged vocals on her cover of this song, my favorite remains the original by Ms. Wells. One of the first ladies to put Motown on the charts (f#ck Diana Ross), Mary Wells would give Gordy and company a string of hits with songs such as, “You Beat Me to the Punch,” “Two Lovers,” and the “One Who Really Loves You,” until her parting with the label the same year she recorded this song. In the years after Motown, I wish I could write that Ms. Wells reached a higher level of acclaim-but sadly I can't. For Mary, the years post '64 would be filled with bad record contracts, bad marriages, a bad suicide attempt, and... well y'all saw the Unsung documentary. RIP Mary Wells.

Baby I'm Scared of You: Womack & Womack from the album, Love Wars (1983)

There are some songs that speak to the core of who I am as a woman. This song is one of them. Aside from describing my present day philosophy regarding all matters of the heart, the groove on this song is so infectious that no matter where I am, if I hear this song I immediately stop what I'm doing and begin to two step. In fact did somebody just press play on the youtube link *puts laptop down and starts to two step* ... *quickly returns to computer* Oh, before I forget, remember the mention of Mary Wells bad marriages? Well one of them was to 1/2 of this duo, Cecil Womack. After his failed marriage to Ms. Wells, Cecil would go on to marry the lead vocalist on this track Linda Womack. Prior to becoming Mrs. Womack, Linda's last name was Cooke... but I'll let y'all figure out if that means anything, 'cause this isn't where our six degrees of separation ends.

I Wish He Didn't Trust Me So Much: Bobby Womack from the album, So Many Rivers (1985)

Bobby Womack. Bobby Muthafuckin Womack. I don't even know where to begin with this brotha, except to say that a man who writes a song like this must have a PhD in "keepin it real". I believe this is why I, and a significant population of black men over the age of 52, love the music of Bobby Womack. With a voice that sounds like any three of the following,

Dice Games. Detroit. Crown Royal. Velvet. Pocketknives. Pistols. Broads. Angst in a White Man's World. Malt Liquor. The Blues. Steel-Stringed Guitars. A Tinge of Regret.

Bobby Womack is one of the only singers who can talk to you for the first two to three minutes of a song, then spend the next six to seven minutes sangin the shit out of it. For an excellent example of this, listen to his cover of the Carpenter's 1970 hit, “(They Long to Be) Close to You.” I could keep going on and on about the magic that is Bobby Womack, but let's get to the big reveal, eh?

SAM COOKE is the reason why Bobby Womack (and his brother, Cecil) got into the music game in the first place. In 1960, Cooke signed Womack and his brothers to his record label, SAR Records under the name, “The Valentinos”. The group would go on to chart several hits with the label until Womack became Cooke's touring guitarist. A few months after Sam's death in 1964, Womack would marry a woman named Barbara. Barbara just so happened to be Sam's widow. It is also reported that Womack would go out on the town with Barbara-while wearing Sam's suits.

Damn Bobby. I wish Sam didn't trust you so much.

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