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​Celebrating 50 years of "A Change is Gonna Come"

Sam Cooke was that rare performer whose work seems fresh -- even timely -- half a century after its debut.

"A Change is Gonna Come"

With hits like "You Send Me," Sam Cooke became one of the most popular singers in the country. But by 1964, with the civil rights movement spreading, the singer wanted to send a different message.

50 years ago this week his song, "A Change is Gonna Come," was released.

"It would just go all through your bones," said Mavis Staples of the Staples Singers.

"Were you surprised that song came from him then?" I asked Staples.

"You know when he came with that song we needed - black people needed black people to do something for us and Sam Cooke was at the top," said Staples.

Singing star Sam Cooke stands next to a huge reproduction of his head on the roof of a building at 43rd Street and Times Square, before it was raised into place atop forty-foot reproduction of him, June 23, 1964. The head alone is eight feet tall. It was painted by special artists of the Artkraft Strauss Sign Company ASSOCIATED PRESS

Cooke who'd been turned away from a whites only hotel in Louisiana a year earlier wanted to write a song with the power of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."

"If you observe what is going on and try to figure out how people are thinking and determine the times of your day, I think you can always write something that people will understand," Cooke once said.

"A Change is Gonna Come" quickly became a civil rights anthem. But Cooke did not live to see it. He was shot to death in a Los Angeles motel two weeks before its release.

Sam Cooke performs in concert at New York City's Copacabana Night Club in this undated photo. ASSOCIATED PRESS

"It's like Sam's last song and everybody loved Sam because Sam was such a - he'd give you the shirt of his back," said soul great Al Green, who performed Cooke's song and made it his own at a 9/11 benefit in 2001.

Barack Obama referred to the song after winning the 2008 election.

"It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this day, in this election, at this defining moment, change has come to America," said Obama during his victory speech.

Smokey Robinson called it "one of the world's great songs."

"It's the kind of song as a songwriter you want to write because you know it's going to be around forever," said Robinson.

That's something that won't change.

For more information on Sam Cooke and his music visit ABKCO
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