The story of Sam Cooke, the soulful singer-songwriter behind such hits as "Wonderful World" and "Twistin' the Night Away," is getting a big-screen treatment that hopes to shine new light on the man's death.
Music and film producer Romeo Antonio has made a deal with Cooke's family to develop the movie project, with a script being written by Mary Krell-Oishi.
Cooke's family members L.C. Cooke and Eugene Jamison will function as consultants on the project, which the producer and the family are seeing as an authorized biopic.
That benefit comes with access to family documents and to people who were important in Cooke's life -- not just surviving relatives but people such as Zelda Samuels, who was the singer's assistant. Antonio even did a five-hour on-camera interview with the now 84-year-old.
Antonio is also working with author B.G. Rhule (One More River to Cross: The Redemption of Sam Cooke) on the project.
Cooke's heyday was between 1957 and 1964, when he had 30 top 40 hits and worked with names such as Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. He also did something unusual for a black recording artist in those times, which was to take control of his own business affairs. After seeing others get rich off his music, he started his own label and owned his own masters and music.
Unfortunately, Cooke's life was cut short under dubious circumstances when he was 33.
He was found dead far from his home in Los Feliz, in a motel in South Los Angeles. Police reports had him kidnapping a woman and then attacking the motel manager, who reportedly shot him and beat him.
But Cooke's family and friends never bought that line and have for years contended there may have been a conspiracy to kill the person who was fighting for black musicians' rights and butting heads with mob-connected music executives.
In fact, it's that angle that caused Cooke's family to take interest in Antonio.
"For years, people have becoming at us to do a movie about Sam. But he was the first person who sounded like he wanted what we wanted: the truth to come out about my uncle and his death," said Eugene Jamison.
"It's the 60s, you could do it like Selma, but it's not the direction I'm going with," Antonio explained. "My pitch to them was a murder mystery. Who did this? And it's being written in that fashion."
Antonio is a former police officer who transitioned to the world of music, where he was a session player and ran his own label. He then segued into film and television.
Just as HBO's The Jinx reexamined old murders allegedly committed by Robert Durst and NPR's podcast Serial is relooking at the imprisonment of Adnan Syed, Antonio aims to make this movie shine new light on Cooke's circumstances.
"I am treating it like a murder investigation," he says.
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