Honoring Sam Cooke


On Saturday, June 18, 2011, Chicago’s own Sam Cooke was inducted into a select group honored by the posting of a street sign in their name. Each honorary street sign is placed in a prominent position either where the person lived or made their mark on society. On the corner of 36th Street and Ellis Avenue in the Bronzeville neighborhood, a brand new sign reading “Sam Cooke Way” establishes forever the place where the singer, songwriter, business man, husband, father, brother, uncle, pioneer and social change activist lived and learned.

The throng of people who came to witness the dedication were jovial, sober, high spirited and very eager. They shared their common love for Cooke in conversation and memories. Childhood friends of Cooke’s stood right by me and began to talk to me when they saw me taking notes.

Herb Kent, the "Cool Gent," (right) poses with fans, relatives and those who grew up with legendary Soul singer Sam Cooke at the June 2011 dedication of a street in Cook'e honor. Photo by Jacqueline Thompson

“Yeah, I remember when he used to run around here with us and play while we went to Doolittle Elementary School. He was in my brother’s room. He smiled a lot, a real role model,” said James Purnell, who lived at 530 East 36th Street. “We are all very proud to witness this day.”

Herman Mitchell added, “He was older than some of us, but even when he got up in the business, he would come back and he would entertain us for free.”

Scotty Wiggins of 532 E. Browning St. reminisced about Doolittle Elementary in the 1940s, when they all attended. Then, Gerald Rhymes, who lived at 470 E 35th St. at the time, added his memories. Clarence “Sonny” Wilson of 470 E. 35th St. recalled, “I used to sing baritone with him.” They all agreed that “It was about time they did this.” Cooke died in 1964.

A big limousine bus brought most of Sam’s family to the scene. Then the speakers began to arrive, and electricity was in the air. Radio personality Herb Kent, Cook County Commissioner Jerry “Ice Man” Butler, Ald. Pat Dowell (3) and Prentice Butler, an assistant to Ald. Will Burns (4), all made remarks.

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