A Trenton native who now lives in Princeton, singer-songwriter Bradd Marquis will present his show “The Music of Sam Cooke: A Change Is Gonna Come” for the first time in his home state, Feb. 11 at William Paterson University in Wayne. A nine-piece band will back him on classic Cooke songs such as “You Send Me,” “Chain Gang,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Another Saturday Night” and “Cupid.”
“I’ve been doing different iterations of this show since 2009,” says Marquis, who describes it as “a concert where I talk about his life and have lots of dramatic moments, to coincide with the storytelling.”
Cooke died in 1964, at the age of 33. He originally earned fame for his gospel singing with the group the Soul Stirrers, then became a pop and R&B idol.
One of his greatest songs, the Civil Rights anthem “A Change Is Gonna Come,” was released shortly after his death.
Cooke appeared as a character in the 2020 movie “One Night in Miami …”; screenwriter Kemp Powers, director Regina King and actor Leslie Odom Jr. created a rich psychological portrait of him.
In his show, though, Marquis said, “I don’t go too deep into his personal life. I talk about when he was born, to his gospel roots, to his desire to transition to popular culture, into soul music and R&B music, pop music. And we tell the story of the times he was in and the things he had to endure as a musician, the highs and lows, and then his transition into an entrepreneur and eventually into an activist before his untimely death.”
Marquis said his grandparents first exposed him to Cooke’s music.
“My grandparents had a heavy hand in raising me and they loved the (gospel) quartets,” he said. “They loved Sam Cooke. They love the Soul Stirrers. I was listening to that music even before I knew how to spell ‘music.’ As I got older, I was reintroduced to him, and some friends told me that I looked like him.”
The first version of “The Music of Sam Cooke: A Change Is Gonna Come” was an hour long. It is now, though, two hours, with an 15-minute intermission.
“The story has gotten deeper, and we’ve added a few more songs here and there,” said Marquis.
Marquis, of course, performs his own music when not doing the Cooke show, and says immersing himself in Cooke’s songs has had an effect on him, as a songwriter and a performer.
“Doing this show, and seeing the response and the power in the music, and the power in the messaging, it made me want to do more of that for myself, and connect to more of those messages personally,” he said. “It forced me to hone in a bit more on my messaging, and forced me to recognize the power in my music, and what it can do for audiences.
“I really wanted more of that in my personal stuff, so that’s kind of where we’ve been transitioning. Not to say I was anywhere far from it, but it just made me become more intentional about it.”
Bradd Marquis will perform “The Music of Sam Cooke: A Change Is Gonna Come” at the Shea Center for Performing Arts at William Paterson University in Wayne, as part of the WP Presents series, Feb. 11 at 8 p.m. Visit wpunj.edu/wppresents.
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