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Posted: 2010 02-10
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A Change Has Come

A great song made even better.

To these ears, there’s no better male singer in non-operatic music than Sam Cooke. Not only could he phrase, articulate, and send shivers with ease, but he could also channel the great unknown, writing not only this classic song, but Wonderful World, Chain Gang, Twistin’ The Night Away, Another Saturday Night (which you mighta heard Cat Stevens sing), Having A Party, Ease My Troubled Mind — so many that have become staples of our musical venacular.

There are artists, and there are Channels — those for whom the body is just a vehicle for something larger.  Sam Cooke was obviously a force from beyond.  In 1963 when he wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come,” perhaps his most lasting song, he was unavoidably caught up in a segregated America — a top singing star who was banned from hotels and restaurants.  Cooke was reportedly blown away that a white guy could write a song like “Blowin’ In The Wind,” and he set out to make his own statement on the change that was blowin’.

It was after his tragic death in 1964 that the song really came to life, and became a quiet anthem for a screaming nation.  And both that gentle delicacy and powerful unstoppable uprising are captured here in gospel diva Yolanda Adams’ version. 

Gently approached, she travels the travails and lessons of the rocky road until she reaches a climactic “change” (you can’t miss it — she holds the note for about a week) and everything is different after that moment. It's about an epiphany, a clarity, a resolve, and a faith in the power and goodness of the human soul that's been articulated from Jesus to Ghandi, Thoreau to Martin Luther King, Sam Cooke to Barack Obama.

Here's a black woman singing — inside the White House to a sitting black President — this not-so-old song about an impossible dream that’s come true.  It is altogether fitting and powerful that she changes the last line to, “a change has come.”  Bravo to the inner strength of a nation that eventually does the right thing, and to the artists who sang the theme song when it was still a dream.

I mean — just take one word in the first line — "born" — and name the other singers who could do that.  And in the next line, dig how she sweetly tucks in the second "t" in tent.  And that T is the difference between a great singer and not.  And that's just the opening couplet.

And boy — I would love to have been in the room with the band for the first rehearsal and seen the players' reactions during and after the first run-thru.  Or even seen their faces when they first received the charts — "Kay, wait ... the singer's holding this note for 8 bars?  This must be a misprint."

And dig — right at the end, you can see Barack in the front row is moving to stand up — the natural reaction — but nobody else around him has, so he stays seated — but in the final room shot you can see the standing O starting in the back, and it waves up to the front, engulfing the room as the clip cuts off. 

 

This version is way better than Sam Cooke's, and he would say that too.

For decades I considered Aretha Franklin the greatest singer there is or ever was.  Until I heard this.  And then more by Yolanda.

Aretha invented an entire new form of music — merging soul, gospel and rock n roll — but ya know, 40 years later, it's entirely possible somebody could be born with even better chops who might master her invention and fly the ship to even more distant planets.

 
YouTube Uploader: PBS
PBS

The full-length In Performance at the White House event, with all performances, is available at http://bit.ly/9Yepwu Adams kicks off the festivities at the White House with Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come. " "In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music From the Civil Rights Movement" airs on PBS stations nationwide on Thursday, February 11 at 8 p.m. ET (check local listings at http://bit.ly/b2S2ox ). More at http://www.pbs.org/inperformance

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