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Both Sam and Mozart could write music on social issues, yet be subtle about it so as not to be inflammatory. 

Sam's "Chain Gang"  is a protest song about the brutality of the capitalistic exploitation of free prison labor,

but it is cleverly masked as a pop song.  Mozart's opera, "The Marriage of Figaro,"  is based on 

a play written by the French playwright Beaumarchais.



 Sam Cooke with the Soul Stirrers  / Portrait of a Legend 1951-1964  / Sam Cook Greatest Hits / 16 Most Requested Songs

Mozart: 46 Symphonies  /  The Piano Concertos  /  Piano Sonatas  /  The Marriage of Figaro

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Sam Cooke and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

By Deborah D. Moseley


This year, 2006, marks the landmark birthdays of two of music's most celebrated legends:  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) his 250th, and Sam Cooke (1931-1964) his 75th.  It may seem a bit unorthodoxed to juxtapose a classical musician with a pop/r&b musician, but it's amazing:  they were both born in the first month of the year, January, and died in the last month of the year, December.  They were both in their early thirties when they died.  Even more amazing, they both had similar musical modus operandi.

They were both precocious boys:  The 'wunderkind' Mozart began composing music as early as age three.  He was also an accomplished pianist.  His musical listening skills were impeccable, for he could listen to a piece of music, then write the entire score exactly as it was performed.  Sam (no disrespect- it's how we refer to American popular culture icons, i.e., when you're really famous your surname isn't necessary.) began grooming himself for a performing career at the age of seven. 

According to the DVD Sam Cooke:  Legend, his brother said that Sam would perform before a make-believe audience, refining his stage presence, elocution and vocal skills because he just knew he was going to be a famous singer.  At such a young age, he had the intrinsic knowledge that working the proverbial nine-to-five job was monetarily vacuous.  Some people really are born with that special knowledge.

They both perfected their music mentally first.  Sam knew exactly how he wanted his songs arranged and performed before he entered the recording studio.  Mozart's compositions were already composed before he transferred them to the manuscript paper.  Having done that, they both produced music that was carefully crafted, refined and balanced.  Mozart's piano technique and Sam's vocal technique were both pristine, articulate, ethereal and poignantly expressive, e.g., Sam's "You Send me," "Cupid" and "Wonderful World" (in my opinion, this is the greatest song he ever wrote. 

As a six year-old, I would get misty-eyed every time my parents played that record.  Over forty years later, it still has the same effect.), and Mozart's Piano Sonatas, K.330 and K.333 in C Major and B-flat Major respectively.  Conversely, they could also express a more dramatic, intense, aggressive and audacious persona. 

Listen to Sam's 'Live at Harlem Square'.  I didn't know Sam could 'get down' like that. WOW!  No wonder he is credited with inventing soul music.  It definitely foreshadows the raw abrasiveness of such great soul masters as Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam and Dave.  Mozart's Piano Concerto in d minor, K.466, and Piano Sonata in C minor, K. 457, present a somber, tragic and ominous depth of expression that is not present in his major-key works. 

In the historical novel Sacred and Profane:  A Novel of the Life and Times of Mozart by David Weiss, a book I bought when I was in high school and still have, though it is badly worn from repeated voracious reading, Mozart's father, Leopold, heard the concerto for the first time and wondered if his son had really suffered that much.  Perhaps Mozart was harboring a private pain that only his music could express.  Music really is a language.

Both Sam and Mozart could write music on social issues, yet be subtle about it so as not to be inflammatory.  Sam's "Chain Gang"  is a protest song about the brutality of the capitalistic exploitation of free prison labor, but it is cleverly masked as a pop song.  Mozart's opera, "The Marriage of Figaro,"  is based on a play written by the French playwright Beaumarchais.  The play protests  the oppression imposed upon the hopelessly impoverished French masses by Louis XVI and Marie- Antoinette.  The play was banned, but Mozart managed to persuade Emperor Josef, the brother of the embattled Marie- Antoinette, to allow him to compose and produce the opera by omitting the references which the monarch found objectionable.

Both Sam and Mozart believed that a musician should be treated and paid as a professional, not a disdained manservant.  The egregious exploitation of musicians, many of whom were grievously underpaid or not paid at all, persisted on both sides of the Atlantic in 18th century Europe and 20th century America.  Regrettably, Mozart never received the financial compensation he was entitled to from his prolific genius.  Sam, however, fared much better:  He signed a lucrative contract with RCA Records, which gave him ownership and creative control of all the songs he wrote.  He was also able to own a publishing company and two record labels to which he signed- on new artists.  He was one of the first artists to realize that the real wealth in the recording industry lies in ownership.

Both the deaths of Sam and Mozart generated conspiracy rumors.  For years after Mozart's death, it was rumored that he was killed by his rival, Salieri, as superbly dramatized in the movie 'Amadeus'. (It's dismaying that there's no move about Sam after all these years.)  The rumor has long been put to rest, but the suspicions surrounding Sam's demise have never been resolved.

Both the music of Sam and Mozart are timeless and still relevant after all these years, which makes their music both classical.  Their prodigious and innovative geniuses were compacted into their short lives:  "Not how long, but how well."  Of both of them, it has been said that had they lived longer, they would have taken music to such levels that stagger the imagination.  We can't have what they might have been, but we still have what they definitely were, and that is definitely staggering.


Deborah D. Moseley

i reside in charleston, s.c., where i began my piano study at the age of seven and have taught music education at the elementary, middle and high school levels for over 20 years.  i have a bachelor of music degree in piano performance and a master of arts in teaching degree, both from winthrop college in rock hill, s.c. currently, after having neglected playing the piano for over ten years, i am taking a hiatus from teaching so i can devote more time to rebuilding my technique and repertoire. my past performances have included a solo concert at the college of charleston, and at the sottile theatre here in charleston i presented the piano works of the black composers r. nathaniel dett and samuel coleridge- taylor for a black history month celebration.  as a child, my parents played a variety of music genres in the home:  jazz, r&b and classical, so i appreciate all styles of music.  however, when it comes to performing it, i'm partial to classical;  it's just 'me'.  i developed and interest in writing after i read 'the autobiography of malcolm x' and when i'm inspired, i enjoy writing about music, history and politics. some of my favorite hobbies are reading and doll collecting.

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
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#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

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1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

By Charles C. Mann

Im a big fan of Charles Manns previous book 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, in which he provides a sweeping and provocative examination of North and South America prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus. Its exhaustively researched but so wonderfully written that its anything but exhausting to read. With his follow-up, 1493, Mann has taken it to a new, truly global level. Building on the groundbreaking work of Alfred Crosby (author of The Columbian Exchange and, Im proud to say, a fellow Nantucketer), Mann has written nothing less than the story of our world: how a planet of what were once several autonomous continents is quickly becoming a single, globalized entity.

Mann not only talked to countless scientists and researchers; he visited the places he writes about, and as a consequence, the book has a marvelously wide-ranging yet personal feel as we follow Mann from one far-flung corner of the world to the next. And always, the prose is masterful. In telling the improbable story of how Spanish and Chinese cultures collided in the Philippines in the sixteenth century, he takes us to the island of Mindoro whose southern coast consists of a number of small bays, one next to another like tooth marks in an apple. We learn how the spread of malaria, the potato, tobacco, guano, rubber plants, and sugar cane have disrupted and convulsed the planet and will continue to do so until we are finally living on one integrated or at least close-to-integrated Earth. Whether or not the human instigators of all this remarkable change will survive the process they helped to initiate more than five hundred years ago remains, Mann suggests in this monumental and revelatory book, an open question.

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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update 2 March 2012




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 Related files:   Beethoven, the Black Spaniard  Sam Cooke and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart   Review of Amiri Baraka's Essence of Reparations