Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Death of Sam Cooke

Wandering Eye

From the time that he first sprouted peach-fuzz whiskers, Sam Cooke had had a twinkle in his eye for the ladies.

He was well-mannered, having been raised properly, so he greeted any and all well-wishers after his performances. But young women always got special attention.

The gospel circuit was very good for his love life. And Cooke was indiscriminate in his affairs, according to paternity detective work done by his biographers.

In the early spring of 1953, a young Chicago woman named Evelyn Hicks gave birth to a daughter fathered by Sam Cooke. A month later, on April 23, Marine Somerville, 18, of Cleveland delivered another baby girl fathered by Cooke. And two days later, his longtime Chicago girlfriend, Barbara Campbell, gave birth to Cooke's third daughter, named Linda, born in a five-week span.

Perhaps even more remarkably for that era, Cooke married none of them. Instead, that fall he wed a different woman, a striking singer from Texas who went by the name Dee-Dee Mohawk. The marriage didn't take root because Dee-Dee couldn't tolerate her husband's wandering eye.

They divorced in 1957, not long before Cooke's breakthrough performance on The Ed Sullivan Show pushed "You Send Me" to the top of the charts. (Dee-Dee died in a car accident in California a year later.)

Robert Christgau, the venerable rock critic, wrote that "You Send Me" "turned him into an instant idol, adored by girls black and white." This new level of fame arrived with an unexpected adjunct: paternity lawsuits.

Cooke was bedeviled by paternity allegations. No one knows for certain how many children he fathered out of wedlock, but his manager wrote more than a few checks to quietly settle out-of-court cases brought by various women.

Even during his marriage to Dee-Dee, Cooke had stayed in extra-connubial contact with Barbara Campbell, mother of his daughter Linda. Campbell was on the verge of marrying her minister boyfriend in 1958 when Cooke showed up at her door in a fit of jealousy.

He proposed, and she took the better option.

The couple settled in Los Angeles after their marriage that fall. They had two more children, daughter Tracey, born in 1960, and son Vincent, born 12 months later. (Vincent drowned in the family's backyard pool in 1963.)

Cooke's philandering was a persistent issue in their marriage. He would show up at dawn after a night out and slough off her demands of an explanation.

Eventually, Barbara, a proud and handsome woman, began to respond in kind. She took a lover or two of her own.

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