One of the most innovative and influential singers in all of American music, Sam Cooke recorded a remarkable body of work in the nearly 14 years between his studio debut on February 1, 1951 and his final session a few weeks prior to his tragic and still-mysterious demise on December 11, 1964. The Complete Specialty Recordings brings together for the first time the entirety of Cooke’s output during the six seminal years he spent at Specialty Records of Hollywood, from his 1951 gospel breakthrough hit “Jesus Gave Me Water” to his earliest experiments with popular song, including the R&B chart-topping “I’ll Come Running Back to You”—84 tracks in all, many fascinating alternate takes among them.
Specialty owner Art Rupe was initially skeptical when the 19-year-old Cooke first showed up at the studio as a replacement for the Soul Stirrers’ star lead singer, R.H. Harris, but his fears were soon calmed, especially after gospel record buyers embraced the new singer with the pretty face and even prettier voice.
All but nine of the tracks of this 3-CD set—which is lovingly annotated by Daniel Wolff, author of You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke—present Cooke as audiences first encountered and came to adore him—in the company of the Soul Stirrers, one of the greatest quartets in the history of gospel music. Many feature Cooke’s spirit-lifting lead trading with the great Paul Foster. Included are such all-time gospel classics as “He’s My Friend Until the End,” “Be with Me Jesus,” “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” and “That’s Heaven to Me,” as well as all 20 glorious minutes of the Soul Stirrers’ stunning 1955 performance at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles .