His first pop single, "Lovable" (1956) was released under the alias of Dale Cooke, in order to not alienate his fan base. Specialty Records, the label of the Soul Stirrers, complained to Bumps Blackwell, Cooke's pop producer, resulting in the loss of Cooke's contract. He signed with Keen Records in 1957, with his own "You Send Me", which had massive mainstream success.
Though a R&B performer writing his own songs and achieving mainstream fame was innovative enough, Cooke continued to astonish the music business in the 1960s with the founding of his own label, SAR Records, which soon included The Simms Twins, The Valentinos, Bobby Womack and Johnnie Taylor. Cooke then created a publishing imprint and management firm, then left Keen to sign with RCA. His first RCA single was the hit "Chain Gang"; this is probably his most famous song. This was followed by more hits, including "Sad Mood", "Bring it on Home to Me", "Another Saturday Night" and "Twisting the Night Away".
Like most R&B artists of his time, Cooke focused on singles. In spite of this, he released a critically acclaimed blues-inflected LP in 1963, Night Beat. Sam Cooke died under mysterious circumstances on December 11, 1964 in Los Angeles, California. He was interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, California.
Though the details of the case are still in dispute, it seems he was shot to death by Bertha Franklin (the manager of Hacienda Motel, where Cooke was staying) who claimed she killed him in self-defense and that he had raped a young woman, then threatened Franklin. The verdict was justifiable homicide, though many believe that crucial details did not come out in court, or were buried afterwards. Some posthumous releases followed, many of which became hits, including "A Change Is Gonna Come", an early protest song. Cooke was inducted as a charter member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.
Following the September 11, 2001 attacks, radio conglomerate Clear Channel Communications sent out of a list of 150 songs that were recommended to be pulled from airplay. "Wonder World" was among those listed, along with the Herman's Hermits version.