Hit Parade

Don’t Know Much About History Edition

Sam Cooke was a hit-maker, soul pioneer, label boss … and a social activist, well before that One Night in Miami.

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Episode Notes

The Oscar-nominated film One Night in Miami… imagines the conversation between Sam Cooke, Malcolm X, Cassius Clay and Jim Brown the night in 1964 they gathered to celebrate the soon-to-be Muhammad Ali’s heavyweight victory. Malcolm X challenges Sam Cooke to use his amazing voice to help “the struggle.” Little did he know Cooke had already recorded his civil‑rights masterpiece, “A Change Is Gonna Come.”

In this episode, Chris Molanphy sets the record straight on the man now called the King of Soul. In his too-brief career—seven years as a gospel star, then seven more as a chart-conquering superstar—Sam Cooke took a remarkable journey: from the pathbreaking pop of “You Send Me,” to the wistful R&B of “(What a) Wonderful World,” to the yearning romance of “Bring It on Home to Me,” to—of course—the now-legendary “Change Is Gonna Come.” Meet the man who defined what soul music was and could be.

Podcast production by Asha Saluja.

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About the Show

Chris Molanphy, a pop-chart analyst and author of Slate’s “Why Is This Song No. 1?” series, tells tales from a half-century of chart history. Through storytelling, trivia, and song snippets, Chris dissects how that song you love—or hate—dominated the airwaves, made its way to the top of the charts, and shaped your memories forever.

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  • Chris Molanphy is a feature writer and critic who writes widely about music and the pop charts.

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