Erik Greene, INN THE BASEMENT wants to congratulate you on your book Our Uncle Sam as it remembers Sam Cooke. He was a master vocalist and a great inspiration to many. It is truly amazing how his name carries on to generations not even born in his time. I would also like to thank you for checking INN THE BASEMENT for this interview with us. There is much information that we would like to gather involving your uncle and his death as well as who he was and what his family believes occurred the day of his death. Let’s begin.
First, could you describe for us Sam. We all know him as singer and entertainer, but as a family member with full access to who he was, tell us, what type of man was he?
Erik Greene: It’s amazing, Mirika, but both my relatives and Sam’s colleagues describe him the same way—extremely generous, about the business, and not the type to take a whole lot of mess from anyone, black or white. In Our Uncle Sam, I relate a story that’s been in the family for years:
One time in Memphis in the early sixties, Sam’s car ran out of gas. Charles, his driver and older brother, grabbed a gas can and headed for the nearest station, leaving Sam behind to watch the car. A white policeman came up to Sam and told him he had to push the car out of the middle of the road. Sam looked him in the eye and told him “my name is Sam Cooke. If you don’t know who I am, ask your wife tonight when you get home. I don’t push cars, I push records. If you want to write me a ticket, go ahead, I’ll pay the fine, but I don’t push nobody’s cars—mine, yours, or nobody else’s.” He got
back in the car and waited for his brother to return with the gas. I asked Sam’s brother and sister, my Uncle David and Aunt Agnes, would he really talk that boldly to a white policeman in the Deep South. They both concluded “without a doubt.” Charles told me, “no one ever told Sam what to do, and you damn sure didn’t tell him what he COULDN’T do!”
It’s also been stated time and time again that he had an aura which attracted people—black or white, young or old. He was the type of person that would walk into a room and all attention would immediately turn to him. Both men and women wanted to be his friend, and he never changed once he became a major star. He always looked out for others, a trait instilled in him by his father. For Sam to buy friends or family a new car or help them out in a time of need was not unheard of. He even paid the tuition of a childhood friend who sought higher education but couldn’t afford it. Sam Cooke was truly a remarkable person.
The night Sam was killed at the Hacienda hotel, police reports tell the story of him being shot to death by the hotel’s manager, Bertha Franklin. However, by the testimony of singer Etta James, at the viewing of the body, she stated that his body looked as if it were beaten badly and not just shot. With your knowledge and being his family, can you tell us any further information about the condition of Sam Cooke’s after his death?
Eric Greene: All one has to do is read the autopsy report and Coroner’s Inquest to know that Sam Cooke, a healthy man of 33, did not die at the hands of a 55-year-old, slightly overweight Bertha Franklin. The condition of Sam’s body is vitally important but never talked about. Sam had cuts on his face and forehead, a broken rib, and a large lump on the back of his head that the autopsy physician admitted “could’ve possibly rendered him unconscious.” Family members remember both of Sam’s hands being broken, with the skin on his knuckles almost gone completely. Etta James noted in her biography that Sam was beaten so badly, his head was almost detached from his body. Whomever Sam encountered in his last hours, it wasn’t this middle-aged woman who didn’t have a scratch on her. Also, all police evidence from that night—the gun, Franklin’s blood-covered dress, the fatal bullet—have been mysteriously lost. In Our Uncle Sam, I reveal the account of a “valued source” who gives a startling detail as to what really happened that fateful night.
INN THE BASEMENT thinks that it was highly possible, over 90% possible, that Sam was viciously set up in a robbery gone wrong. Is there a conspiracy and was your uncle and our musical legend Sam Cooke set up and robbed? Explain.
Erik Greene: After delving deeper into the mystery of his death, my conclusion is that Sam Cooke, to some, was worth more dead than alive. That’s all I’ll reveal for now. I wouldn’t want to spoil the reasons how and why I came to that conclusion for Sam Cooke fans who want to read what Sam was going through before he died.
Is it fact that the woman by the name of Elisa Boyer was arrested about one week later for prostitution? Do you believe that Elisa actually knew the hotel manager at the time and the both of them were involved? Also, where did the woman who Sam was with the night of his murder stash his clothes…basically where were Sam’s clothes found?
Erik Greene: The official story was that Sam came in contact with Lisa Boyer while dining earlier in the evening. Whether he knew her already is still unclear, but there’s a good chance he did. From Martoni’s restaurant, they supposedly left to go to a nightclub called PJ’s where Sam almost got into it with a man that tried to flirt with her. She asked him to take her home, but instead he drove from Hollywood to Watts to take her to the $3-a-night Hacienda Motel against her will. Those who knew Sam knew he like the best of everything—he happened to be driving his brand new Ferrari—and it was reported he had a large sum of money on him at the time. Why would he go to a dump like the Hacienda Motel?
In her testimony at the Coroner’s Inquest, Boyer claimed that Sam tried to rape her inside the motel room. When asked her occupation by the attorney representing Sam’s widow, the Coroner quickly responded “We are not concerned with the occupation of Miss Boyer.” This was one of several times throughout the Inquest that a key question went unanswered. But on January 11, 1965, one month to the day after Sam died, Lisa Boyer was arrested and charged with prostitution in an LAPD sting operation. Why would Sam Cooke, a man who literally had women falling at his feet and who reportedly had $5000 in cash that night, try to rape a prostitute in a seedy motel in the worst part of Los Angeles? The whole scenario doesn’t make sense.
After Boyer escaped from the motel room, it was said Sam broke down the manager’s door in pursuit of his clothes and money, and Bertha Franklin supposedly shot him in self defense. There are several inconsistencies I talk about concerning these events in Our Uncle Sam, inconsistencies that have never been discussed in detail in any other biography.
I don’t want to give away all the answers that could probably be found in your book that has gotten great reviews,Mr. Greene, so tell us about the book Our Uncle Sam and where we can all go get it on the web as well as bookstores?
Erik Greene: Author-autographed copies of Our Uncle Sam: the Sam Cooke Story from His Family’s Perspective can be ordered online at www.ourunclesam.com. They make great presents for hardcore “Cookies” who want to know the true story behind one of the greatest entertainers of the 20th century.
What do you want the world to remember about your great uncle Sam Cooke?
Erik Greene:I think it’s important to point out that Sam Cooke has touched and still touches the lives of so people worldwide. His hit songs, most of which he wrote and produced himself, still stand the test of time. Modern-day artists who control the business side of their careers have him to thank. He became the first black artist to own a record label, signing the likes of Bobby Womack and Billy Preston (both as teenagers), his former gospel group The Soul Stirrers, and Johnnie Taylor. He was the first black artist to refuse to sing to segregated audiences. He was one of the first artists, black or white, to negotiate ownership of his publishing rights. He was even the first black artist to shed his processed hair and wear a “natural.”
But one of the main reasons I wrote Our Uncle Sam was to show the resolve of a man who refused to give in to those who wanted to control his career. The son of a strong-willed Baptist preacher, the Sam Cooke legacy deserves to be recorded accurately. Sam Cooke did not die in shame but just the opposite way—he died a hero who was willing to fight to the death to protect what was rightfully his.
Thank you, author Erik Greene for checking INN THE BASEMENT for this exclusive interview and discussing your book, Our Uncle Sam, and telling us about the legend, Sam Cooke. He will always be remembered for all of his music and the contributions he made to the world.
A Mirika C/INN THE BASEMENT interview