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A Change is Gonna Come - Sam Cooke

Election Day in America.

Kemp Powers' 2013 play "One Night in Miami" imagines what may have happened on the night that Mohammed Ali, then Cassius Clay, booked a motel room on the evening after his World Title fight with Sonny Liston to celebrate his victory with his friends Malcolm X, Sam Cooke and Jim Brown, a top American Football player (later to become one of the earliest successful black Hollywood actors). In the play, amidst much heated debate about politics and civil rights, Malcolm X berates Sam Cooke for not using his successful career as a pop star to make a stand on civil rights, saying that if a white man, Bob Dylan, could do it, surely he, a black man should be stepping up too.

This isn't complete supposition. The meal with the four of them in the Hampton House Motel certainly took place after the fight on 25th February 1964, and it is well documented that Cooke wrote and recorded "A Change is Gonna Come" after he had heard Peter, Paul and Mary's hit version of Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind". However, as the track was recorded on January 30th, 25 days earlier, and released before the fight, the conversation, as written couldn't have happened. The sentiment is spot on though, Malcolm X did know Sam Cooke and was renowned for enjoining successful African Americans to use their power to publicly speak out for the cause. Whatever happens today, some of us are noting not only who has spoken out and for whom, but also who hasn't. And we won't forget.

Although the message of the song is one of hope, of impending change, the tone that dominates Cooke's is one of sadness and resignation - he knows it's a slow, long struggle ahead - which, in the light of events in the USA over the last year, is far from over.

More than any other song, "A Change is Gonna Come" has become the anthem of the civil rights movement and of black people in America. Let's hope some of that change begins with the right result today.


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