By Kelly Luck
Sam Cooke's story started in a small town in Mississippi in 1931. He began his musical career as a gospel singer before moving on to secular recordings and establishing himself as the King of Soul. Over the course of his too-short career, he rubbed elbows with such legends as Lou Rawls, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, even Sonny Bono. He broke new ground not just in music, but in used his talent and fame to bring about real change. Here at the Fringe, Brother John brings his voice and his history to us in his latest musical retrospective.
The format is essentially a radio interview program interspersed with Cooke's songs. Brother-John-as-Cooke is interviewed by Brother-John-as-voice-recording, taking him from his very beginnings up to 1964, the last year of his life. Along with the numerous anecdotes are the songs that made Cooke famous, performed live by Brother John himself, with a little help from a few friends. The music is classic stuff, dearly loved and remembered to this day. Brother John doesn't sound exactly like Sam Cooke--only Sam Cooke sounds like Sam Cooke--but he absolutely does right by the songs.
In point of fact, as good as the music is, that is not the main strength of Brother John's performance. It is Brother John himself. Brother John is a natural and unaffected entertainer and can win over a room through sheer force of personality, even when dealing with the occasional technical glitches that popped up during the show. He has a fine voice, and dips seamlessly into Cooke, doing a splendid job of bringing him to us once more.
Sam Cooke was a one-off, a unique musical voice still heard and enjoyed over half a century since his passing. Brother John pays noble tribute to him in his show, and reminds us why he's always worth catching.