Sam Cooke Fan Club

The Memphis Tribute (2008)

DoubleTree Hotel, April 3 - 5, 2008

The fifth annual tribute was a resounding success. New faces, familiar faces, Cook Family faces - all came together for a once in a lifetime experience.

For those of you who are interested:

There are a very limited number of T-shirts available at this time for $20.00 each plus shipping and handling charges. All are size XL. If you are interested, please contact Toni Cook Howard and send your payment to her. Also, please continue to let us know if you would be interested in purchasing a T-shirt and what size you would want. If we receive enough requests we will check into the feasibility of having an additional run made.

The program is a first rate production. There are copies still available for $10.00 each plus shipping and handling charges. Again, please contact Toni Cook Howard and send your payment to her.

We still have a limited number of coffee mugs available for $3.00 each and pins for $1.00 plus shipping and handling charges. The mugs were commemorative items prepared especially for the third tribute. Contact Toni Cook Howard if you are interested in either of these items.

At our Dinner & Show on Saturday night, we had the pleasure of viewing film footage of Sam's appearance on The Jimmy Dean Show which first aired on television on May 1, 1959. This film footage was provided for viewing by Tom Wills, a film collector in Nashville, TN. At this time the film is NOT available for purchase. If that should change in the future, we will let you know. Again, our thanks go out to Tom Wills for taking the time to drive from Nashville all the way to Memphis just for the purpose of allowing us to view this very special footage.

Officers and Planning Committee Members


Roger E. Starks, Phoenix, AZ

Vice President

Greg Alldredge, Gardena, CA


Don Piper, Altadena, CA

Planning Committee Members

Amanda Spurlin, Brandon, MS
Jack Kaplan, San Jose, CA
Eli Williams, Chicago, IL

Click here and here to view the house resolutions for Sam Cooke Day in Clarksdale.

Greetings from the Mayor

As mayor, and on behalf of the citizens of Memphis, I am pleased and honored to extend official greetings and a heartfelt welcome to each and everyone supporting and participating in the 5th Annual Sam Cooke Tribute.

I am pleased that the city of Memphis has been designated to premier this one-of-a-kind event. It is through music that we are able to celebrate the rich, diverse cultural heritage of Sam Cooke.

Thank you for selecting Memphis as the site to celebrate this wonderful occasion. We hope you will experience true southern hospitality at its best as you sit back – relax – and enjoy – all festivity.

Willie W. Herenton

Greetings from the President

Welcome to Memphis!

On behalf of the Sam Cooke Fan Club, I would like too welcome each and every one of you to this milestone – our 5th Annual Sam Cooke Tribute. I have been a member of this great fan club from the very beginning. How well I remember out first tribute in Atlanta back in November 2002. From there we took the celebrations to Chicago, then to Los Angeles, and back to Chicago again. It has been an incredible journey, and I have met some beautiful people along the way.

I am proud to have served as the President of the Sam Cooke Fan Club for the past year, along side a dedicated and hard working group of officers and planning committee members. My heartfelt “thank you” goes out toe ach of them for their hard work in planning and organizing this 5th Annual Tribute in honor of “The One and Only” Sam Cooke. I take great pride in sharing this year’s festivities with all of you. Who would have thought we would make it this far!

The Sam Cooke Fan Club – along with many members of the Cook family – are doing all we can to keep Sam’s musical legacy and memory alive. I would like to thank each and every one of you for coming out to support this event, dedicated to “The Man and His Music.”

I hope that each of you enjoys the wonderful weekend we have in store. It’s time to start “having that party.”

Roger E. Starks
President, Sam Cooke Fan Club

Memphis and the Soul Man

by Erik Greene

Memphis had been considered a hotbed for Black music long before the "Memphis Soul" sound hit the scene in the early 1960's. Considered the "Home of the Blues" since the start of the 20th century, contemporaries such as W.C. Handy, B.B. King, Albert King, and Bobby "Blue" Bland not only performed on Memphis legendary Beale Street, but they lived there as well.

Also legendary in Memphis' history is the Beale Street Baptist Church - the first black, multi-storied brick church in the country. Built just after the end of the Civil War, it was America's first Black Missionary Baptist church and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. As was tradition, the gospel music at Beale Street Baptist would flow steadily and reverently on Sunday mornings - from the pulpit, to the pews, to the passers by on the street itself.

This was the same gospel music tradition that attracted a group of Chicago teenagers to Memphis in 1949 – first to perform over WDIA’s airwaves, and then to appear at the Palace Theater. The Highway QC’s found the gospel landscape so hot, they temporarily established Memphis as their home base in hopes of cutting a record deal. The group’s 18 year-old lead singer was a handsome, charismatic young man by the name of Sam Cook.

Sam’s adventures in Memphis with the QC’s were only the beginning. He would later return as a member of the Soul Stirrers, singing in local churches and on WDIA gospel programs. As a solo artist, he made numerous appearances in Memphis – one of the traditional stops on Henry Wynn’s “SuperSonic Attractions” tour packages – the last one taking place at Ellis Auditorium on Election Day, November 3, 1964. It was also on this day that Sam taped one of his more memorable television performances. He was lip-synching to “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha” on George Klein’s Talent Party show when Jackie Wilson popped out of the wings to join him…much to his feigned surprise!

It was also in Memphis that Sam Cooke refused a policeman’s order to push his gasless car from the middle of the street. On May 12, 1961, he refused to sing to a forced segregated audience at the same Ellis Auditorium, even after police threatened to arrest him and seize his private property. It was the start of a political consciousness amongst artists of his generation. Famed photographer and Memphis native Ernest Withers took the well known shot of Sam, Aretha Franklin, and NAACP regional field secretary L.C. Bates outside the Lorraine Motel that day.

The effect Sam Cooke would leave on Memphis musicians went well beyond his time spent here. Elvis Presley, who recorded on Memphis’ Sun Records label and later with Sam at RCA, held his music in highest esteem. Bobby “Blue” Bland was a member of the Beale Street blues scene and would eventually sing at Sam’s Los Angeles funeral. Eddie Floyd’s cover of “Bring it on Home to Me” was a Top 40 hit for Stax Records. Floyd’s label mates at Stax included the Staple Singers and Johnnie Taylor – artists whose strong ties with Sam went back to their younger days in Chicago. And then there’s Otis Redding, a Soul Superstar in his own right, who openly idolized Sam Cooke and covered several of his songs, including “Shake” and “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Redding, along with fellow Bar-Kay band members like trumpeter Ben Cauley, often talked about Sam Cooke’s influence on their lives and music.

So as we gather here in Memphis, a city whose history is rich in Blues, Gospel, and Soul music, let’s do so not just with the memory of Sam Cooke, but in reference to the dozens of Memphis-based artists he affected. And on the 40th Anniversary weekend of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, let us also reflect on what Sam stood for as a Black man during one of America’s most turbulent periods. Sam’s time spent in Memphis was historic in a Civil Rights sense almost as much as it was in a musical sense, and the imprint he left here has definitely been remembered.

Tribute Recollection

by Don Piper

Thursday, April 4

Many of the early arrivers to Memphis congregated in the lobby of the DoubleTree Hotel on Thursday morning. With us were Gwen Greene and Erik Greene, Toni Howard, Starr Lusk, Lorenzo & Stephanie Silver, Lawrence & Jean Calvin, Calvin Graham, Eli Williams, Roger Starks, Greg Alldredge and yours truly. On the way out the front door we ran into Kevin and Mandy Trumper and their friends, Ian and Adrian, who were hopping onto a bus to take a tour of Graceland. We carpooled across the Mississippi River to a very nice restaurant which Greg chose. I don't remember the name of the restaurant but I do remember that Roger had the pork chops and, boy, they sure looked good!

After breakfast we drove back into Memphis and went over to the National Civil Rights Museum. There was a hubbub of activity at the museum as they were getting ready for commemorative activities to take place the next day, the 40th anniversary of Dr. King's assassination. We saw Rev. Jesse Jackson at the museum; he was there being interviewed by several television stations for news pieces that night and the next day. If you have never been to this museum, you should go. It is truly an education. There is so much material to read that it would take nearly an entire day to get through all of it. You cannot leave without being moved.

On Thursday evening we held our first event at the DoubleTree, our opening night reception and registration. Jack Kaplan provided the music and audio/visuals. It was wonderful to meet new faces and reconnect with friends. One newcomer was Sgt. Shirley Riga, a colleague of Calvin Graham's from Nashville. Another new face (but not new name) was Diane Bates; she has been a regular poster on the message board for years, but we finally got to see her in the flesh. Other newcomers included Sandra Washington from Birmingham, AL (a big Crimson Tide fan) and her cousin, Juanita Banks. Also there were friends of Eli, Linda and her mother, Helen. Elder Lee Harris and his wife, Valerie, from Charlotte, NC, arrived and brought with them a very special guest, Ben Cauley. Ben was a member of the group The Bar-Kays (they recorded for Stax Records and had the hit record "Soul Finger"). Ben was on the plane in December 1967 that crashed in Wisconsin, killing Otis Redding and all the other members of the Bar-Kays. Ben was the sole survivor of that plane crash. Ben is also a stroke survivor, yet he has the most beautiful, sweet spirit and he can still play that trumpet like it was 1967.

Friday, April 4

Erik Greene and I woke up bright and early Friday morning for a 7:30am on-air interview on WROK-AM in Clarksdale, MS. The station did a great job of helping to promote the day's activities in Clarksdale and interspersed the conversation with several of Sam's biggest hits. We then hopped on the bus at 8:30am for the hour-and-a-half ride down to Clarksdale. It was raining, yes, but that didn't dampen anyone's spirits.

Our first stop in Clarksdale was the Delta Blues Museum. The museum is housed in an old railroad depot and has a fascinating collection of items related to local blues musicians. They had prominently featured their collection of photographs and memorabilia related to Sam. Personally, I got the biggest kick out of the gallery of photographs of local dogs. You would just have to see it to understand. The publicity director of the museum took photographs of the group and of the Cook family members in attendance. A great stop but, boy, did they ever have the heat on high!

Next stop was Theo's Rock & Roll and R&B Heritage Museum on 2nd Street. Theo is a wonderful gentleman who received us with open arms and was thrilled to have us visit. He has a wonderful collection of rock & roll and soul music memorabilia including records, photographs, posters, vintage phonograph players and the like. He took special time to put up and display everything in his collection that was Sam Cooke related.

Our next stop was for lunch at the Ground Zero Blues Club. This terrific establishment is co-owned by actor Morgan Freeman and local businessman Bill Luckett, who was there to personally greet us. Also on hand to greet us was Ms. Panny Mayfield with the Clarksdale Chamber of Commerce. We were treated to a delicious buffet spread featuring fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, cole slaw, and the best fried catfish I have ever eaten. And don't forget about that caramel cake for dessert! It was all so good that I had to kick everyone out of the place and get them back on the bus for the next stop.

And there was no time to spare, either! We were running a few minutes behind for our next stop, the dedication ceremonies for Sam Cooke's marker on the Clarksdale Walk of Fame. I received a telephone call on the way from Martha Harthcock, the Walk of Fame chairman, who told me that because of the weather they were going to have to start the ceremonies without us. Everyone on the bus could hear me begging and pleading with her to hold off for just five more minutes as we were almost there. When we did finally arrive in front of the New Roxy Theatre on Issaquena Avenue, there was a host of local citizens, dignitaries and news media there to greet us. Each and every one of us got a personal welcome from the Mayor, Henry Espy, as we got off the bus. The rain storms held off long enough to get in the complete ceremony. Mayor Espy read the Proclamation which declared April 4 as "Sam Cooke Day" in Clarksdale. The framed proclamation was presented to Roger Starks, on behalf of the Sam Cooke Fan Club, and to Erik Greene, on behalf of the Cook Family. A second proclamation from the State of Mississippi declaring April 4 as "Sam Cooke Day" in the entire state was presented by Lynn Espy, the wife of Representative Chuck Espy, who was in Jackson, MS on business that day. I proudly accepted this proclamation on behalf of all Cooks and Cookies in attendance. We spent the next ten minutes just taking photographs of the marker, taking photos with Mayor Espy and other dignitaries, and getting Mayor Espy's autograph. The Mayor looked like the happiest man in Mississippi that day.

Our next stop was over at the Greyhound Bus Depot, a beautifully refurbished structure that now serves as a local meeting facility. Courtesy of the Mayor, our bus was given a police escort all the way, with lights flashing. Ms. Panny Mayfield put together a wonderful program of music as well as local speakers who were life long residents of Clarksdale and who remember Sam from the days when he came to town to perform. More details of the "I Remember Sam" panel discussion are available in the story in the Clarksdale Press Register newspaper which has been linked to our web site. My deepest thanks again go out to Mayor Espy, Martha Harthcock, Panny Mayfield, Roger Stolle, and all the other citizens in Clarksdale who made this special day a reality for all of us.

We left Clarksdale at about 430pm, driving past "The Crossroads" (if you are familiar with blues musician Robert Johnson you know what this place is all about!) Back in Memphis we settled in for our "Tennessee Waltz" Party at the DoubleTree. There was music, dancing, music, conga lines, music, and dancing. A new feature we tried was the Sam Cooke version of "Don't Forget The Lyrics." If you are familiar with this television game show then you know the premise. The contestant must supply the missing words to the song. Kudos go out to Amanda Spurlin and Jack Kaplan for preparing the program and music (I don't know how they did it - its technical computer stuff that is above me!) Ben Cauley, who spent the day with us in Clarksdale, returned to our dance party and treated all of us to a special performance. He sang and played his trumpet. Meeting Ben on this trip was one of those magical moments that just happen; it could not have been planned.

April 4, "Sam Cooke Day," was filled with beautiful memories from dusk til dawn. All those in attendance were a part of history and I am certain none of us will ever forget it.

Saturday, April 5

Everyone was on their own during the morning and afternoon and many made their way over to the Stax Museum of American Soul Music. It is one of the highlights of any visit to Memphis and should not be missed. Back at the hotel, the committee and performers got ready for the evening's show with a dress rehearsal.

The reception began that evening at 6pm. The dinner began at 7pm with greetings from our president, Roger Starks, and introductions of the officers and committee members. Starr Lusk provided the blessing for our dinner and for the evening. During dinner we viewed a DVD containing many of Sam's television performances. While many of us had seen these clips before, this presentation was different. Thanks to the hard work of Matt Wheeler, we were provided with the best, clearest quality copies of these clips that most of us had ever seen. Then, the biggest surprise of the evening - I introduced Mr. Tom Wills of Nashville, a film collector who so generously drove down to Memphis that day just for the purpose of allowing us to view the film footage of Sam's performance on the May 1, 1959 Jimmy Dean Show. I had never seen this footage before, nor had anyone in the room. I did not want to preview it; I wanted to be "wowed" just like everyone else. And I was WOWED! Sam sang a live version of "Cha Cha Cha" which all in attendance felt was far superior to the recorded version. He also sang "God Bless The Child" and then joined Jimmy Dean at the end of the show for a duet on the gospel number "Just A Little Talk With Jesus." Again, for all of us who were there, this was an awe inspiring and historical moment.

Our live show was based on the Specialty LP "The Two Sides of Sam Cooke." The first part of the show (Side "A") was gospel. Our very own fan club members, which I collectively named "The Sam Stirrers" - Roger Starks, Calvin Graham, Lawrence Calvin and Greg Alldredge, performed wonderful a capella versions of "The Last Mile of the Way," "Jesus Wash Away My Troubles," "Jesus I'll Never Forget," and "A Friend Above All Others." I'm certain that they found Sister Flute out there somewhere in the audience.

Next we made some special presentations. In recognition of all her hard work over the past three tributes, the planning committee presented Toni Howard with one of the special edition commemorative plaques of Sam Cooke that were first offered at the 3rd Tribute in Los Angeles. Toni was very appreciative and deeply moved. Next, we presented to Erik Greene, on behalf of the Cook family, the framed proclaimations from the City of Clarksdale and the State of Mississippi that were presented the day before. The committee collectively agreed that these items rightfully belong to the Cook family and we know that Erik will take very good care of them.

The second half of our show was MC'd by none other than our own Eli Williams, who was truly styling in his all-red suit and his red-and-white loafers. Our performers returned to the stage to do the flip side of the Specialty LP. Our president, Roger Starks, got things off to a swingin' start with "Chain Gang," "You Send Me," "Send Me Some Lovin'" and "Having A Party." Lawrence Calvin greeted us with a terrific set including "Tennessee Waltz," "Shake", "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" and "Shake, Rattle & Roll."

Again this year, Calvin Graham blew everyone away. He repeated his renditions of "Let's Go Steady Again" and "For Sentimental Reasons" that he did in Chicago, then knocked us all out with "Teenage Sonata" and "You're Always On My Mind." Greg Alldredge capped off this stellar evening with "Talkin' Trash," "You Were Made For Me," "That's It - I Quit - I'm Movin' On," then a wonderfully touching a capella rendition of "London By Night," in honor of our guests from England - Mandy, Kevin, Ian and Adrian. Greg capped off the evening with "Tammy" and "Good Times," which was most appropriate because a good time truly was had by all.

There are kudos, acknowledgements and thanks you for so many, probably too numerous to mention, and I'm sure that my bad memory (old age is my excuse) will leave someone out so please know that this list is by no means exhaustive. Thanks to Roger Starks, our president, for his leadership and support of all the committee members throughout the year. To Greg Alldredge for providing the backing tracks for many of the performers and for generally being the life of the party each and every day. To Toni Howard for taking care of the money aspect of things (never a fun task). To Eli Williams for the terrific artwork that you all have on your T-shirts. To Amanda Spurlin for the "Don't Forget The Lyrics" show and for her sweet spirit. Of course, thanks to Jack Kaplan for handling all the duties related to the sound equipment - ordering it, shipping it, assembling it, making it work right during the show, and then taking it down and shipping it back. This is an awesome task; we could never do such a quality show without you, Jack.

Thanks go out to all those in Clarksdale who made "Sam Cooke Day" so very special: Mayor Henry Espy and his secretary, Frances, Representative Chuck Espy and his wife, Martha Harthcock and Panny Mayfield at the Chamber of Commerce, Roger Stolle of CatHead Folk Art (a store in town that we did not have the chance to visit, but Roger was the one who first helped get me connected to the other folks in Clarksdale), Shelly Ritter at the Delta Blues Museum, Ashley Norris, the manager at Ground Zero, and Theo of the Rock & Roll Museum. Thanks also to all the performers and the citizens of Clarksdale for welcoming us all.

And thanks to all of you who attended the Tribute and came to Memphis with your love and good spirits. We enjoyed each and every one of you and hope you all made it home safely. We also help the weekend will re-energize everyone for the next Tribute. Be sure to drop us an email and let us know where you would like it to be held, and let us know why you think your choice would be a good one.

Thanks again to each and every one of you for the best Sam Cooke Tribute yet!