“It starts with that voice, a voice that stirs…always reaching, yearning, giving us testimony, giving us a story…” Darius de Haas declares. Tonight celebrates vocalist/songwriter/businessman/political activist, “King of Soul” Sam Cooke (1931-1964). Bridged by salient notes about the artist’s musical journey and finally his legacy, the program offers just enough narration to provide context. The rest is music.
From gospel roots (The Soul Stirrers) to R & B and pop, Cooke made his mark genre to genre by leaving nothing behind. He took agency when it was difficult for a Black performer as well as starting his own record and publishing companies.
“(Ain’t That) Good News” (Sam Cooke) Darius de Haas rhythmically sings, rolling phrases around his mouth. “(What a) Wonderful World” (Sam Cooke/Herb Alpert/Lou Adler) he sings, now mellow. Cooke was deeply influenced by artists like The Ink Spots, Billie Holiday, and Nat King Cole. De Haas’ version of “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” emerges in short phrases, rather than Cole’s silken, elongated ones. Lyrics are repeated for effect-a signature of the honoree. The performer bounces and bends without going over the top.
Vocalists: Crystal Monee Hall, Phillip Johnson Richardson and Avery Smith with Darius de Haas
Cooke’s “You Send Me” (Sam Cooke) was his first major crossover hit. Backup singers create a soothing, balladic sound. “Oh” is delivered in five syllables. De Haas struts across the stage, then sashays back finger snapping. With “Jesus Gave Me Water” (Lucille Campbell recorded by Soul Stirrers) we hear gospel sensibility; ooos and ahhhhs, eyes closed, head revolving. Backup singers are terrific.
A move from Mississippi to the South Side of Chicago fostered other musical influences than the church. At first Cooke was afraid of losing his gospel audience and presented himself as Dale Cooke, but otherwise encouraged, inclusively by his father, he expanded his repertoire. “Bring It On Home to Me” (Sam Cooke) moves into R & B with another superb vocal arrangement. We hear the familiar “Another Saturday Night” and “Twistin’ the Night Away” (both Sam Cooke) accompanied by infectious movement and vocal solos by backup singers. (Avery Smith is a stand-out.)
Darius de Haas
The audience, most of whom grew up with these songs, dances in its seats with Cooke’s “Cupid”: Cupid, draw back your bow/And let your arrow go/n Straight to my lover’s heart for me, for me…which ends in high tenor. Its arrangement is unexpectedly slowed/savored unlike that to which we’re accustomed and works wonderfully.
The above highlight is followed by another, Cooke’s “Chain Gang” apparently inspired by having seen one of these in person while driving with Jackie Wilson in Georgia. Black convicts made up 80 percent of that forced-labor: (Hoh! Ah!)(Well don’t you know)/ That’s the sound of the men/ Working on the chain, ga-ang…Hard, rhythmic sounds are effectively employed. The call/response number sold a million copies in 1960. An excerpt from Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” (much admired by Cooke) completely stills the auditorium.
“Lost and Lookin’” (J.W. Alexander/L. Jordan) with resonant bass is used to describe Cooke’s suffering when his young son died: I’m lost and lookin’ for my faith…The tragedy broke up his second marriage. In contrast, the entertainer’s appearance at Copa Cabana is illustrated by a pop interpretation of “When I Fall in Love” (Edward Heyman) and a swinging “Tennessee Waltz” (Pee Wee King).
Darius de Haas
Chasing a young woman, in a scuffle with a motel manager, Cooke was fatally shot in 1964. “I believe our art illuminates our humanity, that’s why this song still hits a nerve,” the host says prefacing Cooke’s sweet and soulful “A Change is Gonna Come” buoyed by keyboard organ sound and blue horns. We close with artist’s “Shake.” De Haas lets loose, all hips, steps and pelvis. Oh, to have seen a bit more of this earlier.
The show is neatly directed and underplayed to spotlight songs not personalities. Its script is cohesive, if not telling.
Darius de Haas showcases a wide range of style and appealing sincerity.
Photos by Richard Termine
92 Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
You Send Me: The Songs and Soul of Sam Cooke
Conceived, Written and Performed by Darius de Haas
Directed by Kenneth Roberson
Arranger/Music Director/Piano/Keyboard- Henry Hey
Vocal Arrangements Crystal Monee Hall
Featuring: Crystal Monee Hall, Phillip Johnson Richardson, Avery Smith
92 Y Theresa L. Kaufman Concert Hall
Lyrics & Lyricists
NEXT: Sondheim in Love June 18-20