Barbara Campbell Cooke, 85, Widow of Murdered Sam Cooke, Died


Their stories started as if they were lifted off the ground one of her love songs. Sam Cooke was 18 and Barbara Campbell was just 13 when they met on Chicago’s South Side.

Fifteen years later, Mr. Cooke, a pop superstar at the time, died, He was killed at a motel meeting that went wrong. And just three months after his death, his widow, Barbara Campbell Cooke, would marry her husband’s protege, the hard-voiced soul singer and guitarist Bobby Womack. Their widely publicized union has made them an outcast in their families, much of the music community, and Mr. Cooke’s adoring fans.

In the years that followed, Ms. Cooke lived in relative obscurity, and when she died in April at the age of 85, no public announcement was made at her and her family’s request. The death was recently confirmed by David Washington, a Detroit radio host close to the Cooke and Womack families. No reason was given.

The lives of the cooks together and what happened afterwards were the subject of Greek tragedy. Mr. Cooke, once a young gospel singer, was a music kingpin, a movie star-handsome songwriter. “You sent me” and “Wonderful World,” as well as squeezing “A Change Is Coming” which would become a civil rights anthem.

As the son of a preacher, he took a determined stance on playing South America, refusing to perform for segregated audiences. He was a shrewd businessman who held the rights to his work and started a publishing and recording company to promote the work of others. He was a voracious reader of everything from James Baldwin to William L. Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” (Aretha Franklin, who toured frequently with him as a young singer, recalled buying the book just because she had it.)

He was also a greedy womanizer. Mr. Cooke was 33 when he was shot in December 1964 by the manager of a $3 a night motel in Los Angeles while chasing a prostitute who had stolen his clothes and money. Conspiracy theories still surround death.

Barbara was his young lover, but only one of many girlfriends. She gave birth to her daughter, Linda, at the age of 17; The other three women would also have daughters from Mr. Cooke.

Barbara and Sam met with Mr. Cooke’s disapproving father, Rev. She married and divorced other people before performing the ceremony with Charles Cook. The couple settled on a vine-covered Cape in the Hollywood district of Los Angeles. (Mr. Cooke added an “e” to his name early in his career.)

Marriage was a tough bargain. Steel in ambition and chronically unfaithful, Mr. Cooke moved on while Mrs. Cooke defended herself. In his extensive biography, “Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke” (2005), Peter Guralnick She recorded at length how Mrs Cooke, with whom she had been interviewed, tried to end him by trying to read James Baldwin at her husband’s request and join a group of philanthropic African-American women known as the Regalettes. And as he explained to Mr. Güralnick, he had his own business.

In 1963, their third child, Vincent, drowned in their pool when he was 18 months old. A year later Mr Cooke died.

When Mr. Cooke died, Mrs. Cooke was still numb with grief over her son’s death and was humiliated by the vulgar circumstances of her husband’s murder, she told Mr Guralnick. He said he welcomed Mr. Womack, 19, into the home as a kind of guardian. He was 29 at the time. At her insistence, they got married in early 1965.

In his memoir “Bobby Womack: My Story” (2006), Mr. Womack likened Mrs. Cooke’s proposal to a scene from the 1967 film “Graduate”. friend of his parents.

“If you promise to give me five years,” Ms. Cooke said to Mr. Womack, “I’ll give you a lifetime. You know, whatever you have to do. I just need you to walk here with me.”

Mr Womack wrote of his new wife: “She took and took a lot. He could bear it.” He and Sam were a couple. They lived through each other. They really did.”

But it upset many people to see Mr. Womack sometimes show Mr. Cooke’s widow around in Mr. Cooke’s clothes. The couple received hate mail, including a package containing a doll in a coffin. At a Nancy Wilson concert, the crowd booed when Mrs. Wilson introduced the couple sitting in the audience. While telling, Mr Womack, provoked by his new wife, took cocaine. He also began a sexual relationship with Cookes’ daughter, Linda, who was then a teenager. When Barbara found them in bed, she shot Mr. Womack, the bullet grazed his temple. (Mrs. Cooke was not charged, according to Ms. Womack’s book.) They divorced in 1970.

Years later, Linda Cooke married Mr. Womack’s brother, Cecil, and the couple became a recording duo called Womack & Womack. Linda now uses the name Zeriiya Zekkariyas, a nod to her African heritage.

Cooke and Bobby Womack had a son, whom they named Vincent after Cookes’ drowned baby. His father wrote that Vincent Womack struggled with drugs and alcohol and committed suicide at the age of 21 in 1986.

Bobby Womack rose to fame when he covered the Rolling Stones’ 1964 debut #1 hit “It’s All Over Now.” he died in 2014 He is 70 years old, but not before experiencing other tragedies. Another son, Truth, died when he was an infant, and Mr. Womack’s brother, Harry, was murdered by a girlfriend.

“I no longer speak to Barbara,” Mr Womack wrote in his memoirs. “Linda isn’t talking to him. I haven’t spoken to Cecil in years. Nobody talks to anybody.”

Barbara Campbell and her twin sister, Beverly, were born on August 10, 1935, in Chicago. He went to Doolittle Elementary School. Mr. Cooke had graduated from high school when they met, but Barbara, a young mother, worked two jobs to support herself and her child.

Mr. Cooke in 1986, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Ms. Cooke sided with Mr. Cooke’s father to accept the award on behalf of the singer.

“I think if Sam could be here tonight, he would be excited to see me on this stage,” said Mr. Cooke’s father. (Old Mr. Cook was not initially thrilled by his son’s transition from gospel to worldly music.)

Mrs. Cooke was survived by Mrs. Zekkariyas and another daughter, Tracey Cooke; her twin sister, Beverley Lopez; and a grandson.

Family members and Mr Güralnick refused to talk about Ms Cooke’s life and death, citing a request for privacy.

But in Mr. Güralnick’s nearly 750-page biography, Mrs. Cooke had the final words. The author recounted her falling in love with Mr. Cooke and him, and reminiscing about walking in the snow in Chicago’s Ellis Park when they were young.

“We used to wander around the park and daydream,” he told Mr. Güralnick. “There wasn’t a penny between us, but I’m princess, you’d think he was a prince. Every time a Cadillac passed by, I would say, ‘This is our chauffeur.’ He’s coming to take us to our mansion.”

He added: “Everyone wants a happy ending. That’s how I see it.”



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