Friday, November 23, 2012

Isn't it time Miami named a street after Sam Cooke?

We've all seen the signs on Miami-Dade county's streets. They're everywhere.

I'm talking about the South Florida streets and avenues that, in addition to having a numerical designation, are also named after a person. To bureaucrats and politicians they're known as "street co-designations."

There are the obvious ones: a street and a causeway are named after two early Miami pioneers: Henry Flagler and Julia Tuttle.

Some streets are named after personalities who have left some kind of mark on South Florida. A stretch of NW 10th Ave. starting at 14th Street is called Bob Hope Road. Miami Beach's 41st Street is also called Arthur Godfrey Road; named after the 50s radio personality who broadcast his show from Miami Beach during the winter months.

Others are named after business leaders, police officers who have died in the line of duty, politicians and sports figures. Scores of avenues and streets are named after various Cuban patriots.

And some are hard to figure... a two-block stretch of Bird Road is called Bob Arbetter's Way, named for the late owner of a hot dog stand.

But if you think you have to die before they name a street after you, think again. A 72-block stretch of NW 12th Ave. is named after Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle.

But naming a street after someone who's still alive can be dangerous.

A section of SW 132nd Avenue was once named for  a Cuban-American developer who later did time in federal prison for running a massive drug-smuggling operation.

After that debacle, a few embarrassed county commissioners proposed an ordinance that would have limited the naming of streets to those who had been dead for at least five years. The proposal was quickly shot down. (There's still a boat ramp on Miami Beach named after former Florida State Representative Barry Kutun who pled guilty to having sex with an underage girl.)

Earlier this month I requested a list of co-designated street names from the county's public works department. A few days later, a public works official sent me a 50-page list of streets and their co-designations. According to the list, almost 800 streets in Miami-Dade County are named after someone or something.

But, as far as I can tell, there's not a street in Miami named after Sam Cooke. And that's a shame.

Sam Cooke, of course, was an R&B, gospel and pop singer and songwriter who died in 1964.

So, you're probably asking, why should we name a street in Miami after Sam Cooke? What did he do to deserve a "co-designated" street name?

Click to enlarge.
Well, on a Saturday night in January,1963, Sam Cooke showed up at the Harlem Square Club at N.W. 2nd Ave. and 10th Street in Overtown to record an RCA album tentatively titled "One Night Stand."

Cooke performed several shows and left town. Neither of Miami's two daily  newspapers made any mention of his appearance.

And, for some reason, the tapes recorded that night sat untouched in a vault in New York City for 22 years, until an album - "Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club, 1963" - was finally released in 1985.

Why did it take 22 years for RCA to release the album?

In 1985, shortly after the album became available in music stores, Miami Herald reporter John Dorschner went looking for some answers.

In a masterful and memorable July 21, 1985 Tropic Magazine piece Dorschner wrote:
The reason why the album was so long in being released, said [Allen Klein, Sam Cooke's manager,] was that RCA had always wanted Sam to be another Nat King Cole, and the company had him crooning little ballads like "Mona Lisa" and "Hey, There." Right after his first hit single, Cooke had tried to play to white audiences, performing in the Copa, the big New York nightclub. The audience hated it. The critics hated it. Sam Cooke hated it.

From then on, said Klein, even as the hit singles kept piling up, Sam Cooke stuck to the Chitlin Circuit, performing in front of the people who liked him when he was just being himself.

And that's what you hear on the Harlem Square tapes - Sam Cooke being Sam Cooke. But back in the '60s, RCA couldn't stand it. Several months after Cooke's Miami appearance, he was once again booked into the Copa, doing a controlled, top-40, white kind of show. The Copa tapes became a live album; the Miami tapes went to the vault.
Today, the album that was forgotten for 22 years, is considered by some to be one of the greatest live R&B albums ever recorded. Rolling Stone magazine included it in a list of the "500 Greatest Albums of all Time."

In 2005, an reviewer wrote:
Here he was, IS, soulful, GRITTY, sweatin up a storm, steppin' out of his "Eisenhower" threads, crooning, RASPING his way through songs, HIS songs. Talkin', testifying, workin' the crowd, laughing; joking around like he was the greatest ENTERTAINER that ever was.
But Sam is the whole package. And while you feel like you are there, it's not enough, you WISH that you were there. His voice here is silk and satin mixed with grown-up grit. Those wonderful, sweet G-rated hits now have a new ingredient, and it's a knowing R-rated attitude, no profanity, just a healthy sexual swagger permeating songs not only of the heart and mind, but of the body and soul as well. One of the greatest live albums ever recorded and a true portrait of the artist as a grown-up man.

On January 12, 2013, it will be 50 years since Sam Cooke made music history and recorded one of the "greatest albums of all time" ...right there on NW 2nd Ave. in Overtown. 

And that, it seems to me, is all the reason we need to name a street after him.


  1. Bill,
    Thanks for sharing this. I didn't know he had a Miami connection. I've always have been a big fan of Cooke's particularly "Another Saturday Night", "Cupid" and "You Send Me."
    Old soul here :)

  2. Jose Canseco also had a street named for him for some time, I believe that's been revoked...

    1. You are correct. The resolution naming a street after Canseco was rescinded.

  3. I had no idea the Harlem Square Club was in Miami!!


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