Study Guide

A Change Is Gonna Come

A Change Is Gonna Come Introduction

In a Nutshell

We'll be honest: 1964 America was a toughie. Sure, the British Invasion was rolling in, the government was coming to terms with the fact that cigarettes can kill you, and hitching a ride with a hippie van was a fair-minded Plan B at the time. But for people that couldn't ever escape their identities, a.k.a. African Americans, there were bigger problems that were resulting in violent ends. Medgar Evers had just been assassinated, the KKK bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church resulting in the death of four young girls, and peaceful protests were no longer peaceful. 

Along came Sam Cooke's celebrated 1964 song, "A Change Is Gonna Come." If you're down on your luck or feeling discouraged, don't despair. Things are about to turn for the better. At least, that's the message Cooke was sending with this track.

Picked up by the Civil Rights Movement as an anthem for change, this feat of songwriting acknowledges the emotional toll that can result from decades of oppression, and then lifts you up with its message of hope. After all, Martin Luther King, Jr. had just led the biggest civil rights march in history to date, was named Time magazine's Man of the Year, and President Lyndon B. Johnson would sign the Civil Rights Act in '64. 

The haunting orchestral background music sets the stage for a tale of pain and struggle that—we can't help believing, when we hear it from Cooke—can still have a happy ending.

We've all been there. The morning shower's cold, the coffee spills, and the demands of the day, no matter how small, seem to pile up. If you need a mid-day boost, crank Cooke's song. And if you're grappling with the big issues like civil rights activists were—because, these are still big issues—this song might help you have a little more faith in humanity that life can get better.

And if all that hasn't sold you on the power of this song, just sit back and listen to Cooke's rich voice. There's no denying it: the man can sing.

About the Song

ArtistCooke, Sam
Year1964
LabelRCA Victor
Writer(s)Sam Cooke (lyrics), Rene Hall (musical arrangement)
Producer(s)Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore
Musician(s)Sam Cooke (vocals)
Learn to playGuitar Chords
AlbumAin't That Good News

Music Video

Influences on Cooke, Sam

Early Gospel Music
Ray Charles

Influenced by Cooke, Sam

The Temptations
Aretha Franklin
Marvin Gaye
Curtis Mayfield
Otis Redding
Smokey Robinson
Rod Stewart
Seal

A Change Is Gonna Come Resources

Books

Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, by Peter Guralnick (2006)
Guralnick, one of the best biographers in the business, is most well known for his exhaustive biography of Elvis Presley. But this biography of Sam Cooke certainly stands up to his Elvis biography. This book covers Sam Cooke in all of his complexities.

You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, by Daniel Wolff (1996)
This is yet another well-written, well-researched biography of Sam Cooke.

Albums

Portrait of a Legend (1951-1964)
This is a really well put together compilation that includes some of Cooke's greatest hits, including "You Send Me," "Cupid," "Twistin' the Night Away," "(What A) Wonderful World," and "A Change is Gonna Come."

Images

Sam Cooke in the Recording Studio
Classic shot of Sam Cooke laying down the vocals for a track in the recording studio.

Dapper Sam Cooke
He's looking pretty slick here.

Movies & TV

Sam Cooke - Legend (2003)
This documentary, written by Peter Guralnick, was originally produced for VH1, but was then expanded from its original format. It includes plenty of great old footage of Cooke performing.

Websites

Official Sam Cooke Site
This website includes a brief biography of Sam Cooke's life, a complete discography, photographs, and more.

Video & Audio

Sam Cooke Performing "You Send Me" on the Ed Sullivan Show
This video gives a good glimpse into Sam Cooke, the charismatic heartthrob.

"A Change Is Gonna Come"
Have some tissues handy when you listen to "A Change Is Gonna Come."