Their story began as if it came from one of her love songs. Sam Cooke was 18 and Barbara Campbell was only 13 when they met on the South Side of Chicago.
Fifteen years later, Mr. Cooke, then a pop superstar, was dead, murdered in a motel date gone awry. And only three months after his death, Barbara Campbell Cooke, his widow, would marry the protege of her husband Bobby Womack, the singer and soul guitarist with the gritty voice. Widely publicized, their union has made them outcasts in their families, much of the music community and worshiping fans of Mr. Cooke.
In her later years, 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 cause was given.
The life together of the Cookes and its aftermath were the essence of the Greek tragedy. Mr. Cooke, once a teenage gospel singer, was a music king, a handsome crooner and successful movie star as “You sent me” and “Marvelous world,” as well as the tearing “A change is going to happen,” which would become a civil rights hymn.
The son of a preacher, he took a firm stand in playing the American South, refusing to perform in front of a separate audience. He was a savvy businessman who retained the rights to his work and established a publishing and recording company to promote the work of others. He was a voracious reader, of everything from James Baldwin to “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” by William L. Shirer. (Aretha Franklin, who as a young singer was often on tour with him, remembered buying the book just because he had it.)
He was also a voracious womanizer. Mr Cooke was 33 when he was shot dead by the manager of a $ 3-a-night motel in Los Angeles in December 1964 while pursuing a prostitute who had stolen her clothes and money. Conspiracy theories always surround death.
Barbara was his teenage girlfriend, but only one of many girlfriends. She had their daughter, Linda, when she was 17; three other women are also believed to have daughters of Mr. Cooke.
Barbara and Sam had married and divorced others before getting married in Chicago in 1959, with Mr Cooke’s disapproving father, the Reverend Charles Cook, performing the ceremony. The couple settled in Los Angeles in a vine-covered cape in the Hollywood area. (Mr. Cooke had added an “e” to his name early in his career.)
Marriage was a tough business. Mr. Cooke, fearless in his ambition and chronically unfaithful, led his life while Mrs. Cooke fended for herself. In his comprehensive biography “Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke” (2005), Peter Guralnick noted how Mrs. Cooke, whom he had interviewed at length, tried to keep her alive, trying to read James Baldwin at the behest of her husband. and join a group of philanthropic African-American women known as Regalettes. And she had her own business, as she explained to Mr. Guralnick.
In 1963, their third child, Vincent, drowned in their swimming pool when he was 18 months old. A year later, Mr. Cooke was dead.
When Mr Cooke died, Ms Cooke was still numb with grief over her son’s death and humbled by the gruesome circumstances of her husband’s murder, she told Mr Guralnick. She said she welcomed Mr. Womack, 19, into the house as some kind of protector. She was 29 at the time. At her request, they got married in early 1965.
In his own memoir, “Bobby Womack: My Story” (2006), Mr. Womack compared Mrs. Cooke’s proposal to a scene from “The Graduate”, the 1967 film in which a dazed and disillusioned young man is seduced by a friend. of his parents.
âIf you promise to give me five years,â Mrs. Cooke told Mr. Womack, through her story, âI’ll give you a lifetime. You know, whatever you need to do. I just need you to walk with me here.
Mr. Womack wrote of his new wife: âShe could, and did, take a lot. She could endure. He added, “She and Sam were a pair. They lived each other. They really did.
But it upset many people to see Mr. Womack, sometimes dressed in Mr. Cooke’s clothes, shake Mr. Cooke’s widow. The couple received hate mail, including a package containing a doll in a coffin. At a Nancy Wilson concert, when Ms Wilson introduced the couple sitting in the audience, the crowd booed. In his story, Mr. Womack, goaded by his new wife, took cocaine. He also began sex with the Cooke’s daughter, Linda, then a teenager. When Barbara found them in bed, she shot Mr. Womack down, the bullet grazing his temple. (Ms Cooke was not charged, according to Mr Womack’s book.) They divorced in 1970.
Years later, Linda Cooke married Mr. Womack’s brother, Cecil, and the couple became a recording duo, Womack & Womack. Linda is now called Zeriiya Zekkariyas, a nod to her African heritage.
Ms Cooke and Bobby Womack had a son, whom they named Vincent, in honor of the Cookes’ drowned baby. Vincent Womack struggled with drugs and alcohol, his father wrote, and committed suicide in 1986 at the age of 21.
Bobby Womack rose to fame early on when the Rolling Stones covered his 1964 song âIt’s All Over Now,â their No.1 first hit. He died in 2014 at age 70, but not before he had suffered a loss. other tragedies. Another of his sons, Truth, died as a baby, and Mr Womack’s brother Harry was murdered by a girlfriend.
“I don’t talk to Barbara anymore,” Mr. Womack wrote in his memoir. âLinda doesn’t talk to him. I haven’t spoken to Cecil in years. Nobody talks to anyone.
Barbara Campbell and her twin sister, Beverly, were born on August 10, 1935 in Chicago. She attended Doolittle Elementary School. Mr Cooke had graduated from high school when they met, but Barbara, a teenage mother, had two jobs to support herself and her child.
In 1986, when Mr. Cooke was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Ms. Cooke supported Mr. Cooke’s father to accept the award on behalf of the singer.
âI think if Sam could be here tonight he would love to see me on that stage,â Mr. Cooke’s father said. (The elder Mr. Cook was not initially thrilled with his son’s transition from gospel to secular music.)
Ms. Cooke is survived by Ms. Zekkariyas and another daughter, Tracey Cooke; her twin sister, Beverley Lopez; and a granddaughter.
Family members and Mr Guralnick declined to discuss Ms Cooke’s life and death, citing her wish for privacy.
But Ms Cooke had the last words in Mr Guralnick’s nearly 750-page biography. The author cited her recollections of falling in love with Mr. Cooke, and him with her, and of wandering in the snow in Chicago’s Ellis Park as teenagers.
âWe were walking around the park and fantasizing,â she told Mr. Guralnick. âWe didn’t have a dime between us, but you would have thought I was the princess and he was the prince. Every time a Cadillac passed, I would say, âHe’s our driver. He’s coming to take us to our mansion.
She added, âEveryone wants a happy ending. This is how I see it.