Back in the late 1970s when The Buddy Holly Story came out, a lot of sharp-eyed viewers remarked that the actor who played Sam Cooke in that movie would have been perfect to star in "The Sam Cooke Story." Well, no fictional film of Cooke's life has surfaced, but at long last there is a definitive video documentary, and it is good enough that one wishes that it had been booked into a theater, as was done with The Compleat Beatles and The Beach Boys: An American Band. The producers are extremely lucky in that there are still plenty of people still around to talk to and interview, not just colleagues and collaborators but longtime friends and family members, who knew Cooke from just about every phase of his life and career. These include Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Bobby Womack, Luigi Creatore, Lloyd Price, and Lou Adler. As the producers also got access to most of the publishing associated with Cooke's career, there's almost no absence of musical highlights; though the most interesting parts of all are the performance clips -- Dick Clark turns in just about the best service he's ever given to actual music history (as opposed to the history of American Bandstand) -- with his recollections and his performance clips of Cooke. And there's a more generous spread of clips than one would have expected, but, as one might fear, the most important clip of Cooke's musical career -- his performance of "Change Is Gonna Come" on The Tonight Show (from 1964), is lost to history and the neglect of NBC. Still, what is here is engrossing and touching, so much so that one may be moved to tears at the end. The bonus materials include more extensive interview clips with those who were interviewed for the documentary. The chaptering might have been a little more generous, but this program would still be a bargain at twice the price.
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