One reporter, Maureen Cleave of the Evening Standard, spotted a novel at Cooke’s bedside called Life at the Top. Astonished, she asked Cooke if he read books, “for Mr. Cooke is a pop singer.”
“Excessively,” he replied. Cooke said he read constantly because he “wanted to know how to appeal to people, and books teach you that.” Among others, he read Winston Churchill, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and James Baldwin.
Asked in the same interview about what name his brother L.C.’s initials stood for, Cooke shed more light on his drive to learn.
“He never did have a name, and I’ll tell you why,” Cooke said. “Ignorance. You see, my great-grandmother was a slave in Mississippi. She had no education. Neither did my father. He was a self-made man. But he saw the disadvantages to the Negro child in the South, so he … went north to Chicago.
“In many ways, I’m very like my father. He has this intense drive that I’ve got, and I think it’s this drive that makes stars out of people. You want to stay at the top.”
—Adapted from Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, Peter Guralnick, Little, Brown & Co.