Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke, “King of Soul”
Miami, February 25, 1964
Film: One Night in Miami
Release Date: December 25, 2020
Director: Regina King
Costume Designer: Francine Jamison-Tanchuck
Soul legend Sam Cooke was born 90 years ago today, on January 22, 1931. Although Cooke died young, shot at a Beverly Hills motel just over a month before his 34th birthday, his smooth voice endures as the pioneering “King of Soul” who not only wrote and recorded scores of classic hits but also supported, produced, and influenced some of the most talented musicians of the day.
A week ago today, One Night in Miami was released to stream on Amazon Prime Video, adapted by Kemp Powers from his own one-act play. The night in question is February 25, 1964, the night that Cassius Clay won the world heavyweight boxing championship in a surprise victory over Sonny Liston. Powers brings Clay together to celebrate his victory with Cooke, Malcolm X, and Jim Brown on a night that proves to be pivotal for all four icons.
For Clay, it’s the announcement to his friends—and the public—that he will be joining the Nation of Islam and forthwith known as Muhammad Ali, while his friend and religious mentor Malcolm X considers his own future with the organization. For Brown, it’s a professional crossroads as the 28-year-old NFL star considers a career in front of the camera rather than behind the offensive line. And for Cooke, it’s a reckoning on how he can more strongly use his voice to advance the message of the civil rights movement.
The evening begins as Cooke peels into the parking lot of the Hampton House motel, where Malcolm X’s Nation of Islam sentries are already standing guard. “I’m the first one here? Me and my fast-ass cars…” Cooke comments on his cherry red Ferrari. (Indeed, Cooke was an automotive enthusiast… more on that later!)
“It’s a damn dump,” Cooke comments to himself after exploring Malcolm X’s room, which is significantly less glamorous than Cooke’s own lodgings across town at the famous Fontainebleau. Clay, Brown, and Malcolm X are soon to follow, and Cooke is particularly disheartened when he learns that Malcolm X’s planned post-title celebration will consist not of booze-soaked revelry but of ice-cream fueled reflection.
Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr. deliver fantastic performances as the four leads, and the Tony Award-winning Odom showcasing a mastery of Cooke’s inflections and mannerisms as he leads us through some of the King of Soul’s greatest hits including “You Send Me”, “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons”, “Chain Gang”, “Good Times”, and particularly “A Change Is Gonna Come” during One Night in Miami‘s stirring coda. (Some dramatic license is taken to depict that Malcolm X’s urging inspired Cooke to write the latter, though Cooke had already released “A Change Is Gonna Come” as a single almost a month earlier on January 30, 1964.)
To showcase Cooke’s talent for your listening pleasure, I’m compiled his original recordings of the above tracks as well as “Having a Party” (in the spirit of the evening’s intended events) and “Basin Street Blues”, a cover of Spencer Williams’ Dixieland standard that Cooke had recorded just months earlier and is one of my personal favorites from his prolific discography.
What’d He Wear?
The Burgundy Sharkskin Suit
The opening scene depicts Sam Cooke’s low tolerance for ribbing from anyone but close acquaintances, so you know later that Jim Brown must be a close pal when he jests about “that cheap purple suit.”
Of the four leads, Sam is arguably the flashiest dresser in his burgundy suit with a tonal pink shirt and day cravat, standing boldly apart from his pals in their more traditional suits. True to life, Malcolm X was the most conservative dresser in a typical business suit, white shirt, and tie as well as his iconic browline glasses. Jim Brown and Cassius Clay are costumed in a manner bridging the gap between Sam Cooke’s form and Malcolm X’s function, Brown looking stylish in his mod black three-piece suit and button-down collar and Clay fashionable and contemporary in a light brown suit with a windowpane check echoing his teal knitted sports shirt.
Clay, Brown, and Malcolm X wear pieces that could have been found in any man’s closet during the ’60s, but Cooke takes measures to dress in a manner that lets us know he’s somebody who can afford custom-made clothes that make a statement. It’s an interesting contrast, as Cooke is charged by Malcolm X as being the most comfortable among the oppressive establishment, and thus may see the least need to dress to fit in.
Fawnia Soo Hoo for Fashionista cites the movie’s production notes to explain that Cooke was costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck’s favorite character to design, drawing on how the artist appeared on album covers in his father’s collection when she was growing up. “Sam Cooke was the most fashionable of all the four,” Jamison-Tanchuck explains. “The sharkskin suit was just so wonderful and indicative of the ’60s. Leslie wore them well and Leslie just went with it.”
“Cooke was into sharkskin, so we built a two-piece wine-colored suit,” Jamison-Tanchuck elaborated to The Hollywood Reporter‘s Cathy Whitlock. Sharkskin is characterized by its shine, a silky iridescent finish that belies that the base fabric of most sharkskin suits is a soft, smooth worsted wool, woven or warp-knitted in two color threads incorporating fabrics like mohair or rayon, depending on the quality. The subtle shine of Leslie Odom Jr.’s burgundy screen-worn suit suggests tasteful natural fibers as were popular on more sophisticated sharkskin through the mid-20th century rather than the “fast fashion” manmade fibers that cheapened sharkskin’s reputation in the decades to follow. (You can read more about sharkskin from Burton Menswear and Style Girlfriend.)
Cooke’s single-breasted suit jacket has notch lapels that roll to a two-button front, positioned neatly to match the top of the trousers at Leslie Odom Jr.’s waist. At 5’7″, Odom is not a particularly tall actor, but his clothing is fit to flatter, suggesting quality tailoring on par with what the real-life clothes horse Cooke would have worn. The double-vented jacket has structured shoulders with roped sleeveheads and four buttons at the cuff of each sleeve. The set-in breast pocket does not have a prominent welt like many traditional suit jackets, and the flapped hip pockets are positioned on a gentle slant toward the back.
As mentioned, Cooke’s trousers rise to Odom’s natural waist line, where they are tailored to fit without requiring belt, braces, or even adjuster tabs. The narrow waistband has an extended tab that fastens through a hidden hook closure positioned to the right. The minimalist trousers lack pleats and appear to have a flat front, though there may also be darts to fit the trousers over the hips.
Consistent with emerging styles of the ’60s, the trousers have the distinctive full-top frogmouth, or Western-style, front pockets which Matt Spaiser of Bond Suits defines as “slightly slanted down across the front, and offset down from the waistband so the pocket is in the middle of the hips rather than on top of the hips.” There are two jetted back pockets, and the trousers fit straight through the legs to the plain-hemmed bottoms.
Cooke tonally coordinates with a pink shirt that softens the visual impact of his bold suit. The shirting has a shine reflective of either a high-twist cotton or possibly silk, with the same cloth covering the buttons up the shirt’s plain “French placket” front.
Though the opening scene depicts Sam Cooke bombing at the Copacabana for his first appearance in March 1958, he would be received with remarkably better success for his return in the summer 1964, which also yielded the spectacular live album Sam Cooke at the Copa. “Immediately after the last show, Jules Podell, the gruff Copa manager, presented Sam with the prized cuff links and bonnet,” wrote Peter Guralnick in his well-researched Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck copied these to create one of the gold sets that Odom wears as Cooke, though I’m not sure if these were the rectangular links worn with his double (French) cuffs in this sequence or the more ornate links he wears for his appearance on The Tonight Show during the finale.
Cooke adds an aristocratic air to his ensemble with a day cravat made from a rich burgundy silk, embroidered with beige star-shaped designs.
Cooke continues the color into his shoes with a pair of burgundy cotton lisle socks. Even his black derby shoes are non-traditional, textured with woven leather vamps inside the apron-toe.
Cooke balances his flashy look by going light on ornamentation, wearing only a gold signet ring on his left pinky as far as visible jewelry and accessories.
Sam Cooke’s style evolution was chronicled by Peter Guralnick in Dream Boogie, beginning with the singer’s embrace of Ivy-inspired clothes around the time of his first major success in the fall of 1957. “I like the Ivy League look in clothes. I am fashion conscious,” Cooke himself told Amsterdam News in December 1957, a time when Guralnick notes that “he began to cultivate a collegiate look: V-neck sweaters and pleated belt-less pants for casual situations, a growing number of modestly elegant business suits for more formal ones.”
The Silver Copa Suit
One Night in Miami opens during one night… in New York. At the famous Copacabana nightclub, in fact, where Sam Cooke is making his debut appearance, attempting to appeal to the audience demographic by covering Debbie Reynolds’ frothy “Tammy”. No specific date is given on screen, but it was March 1958 when Cooke famously bombed at the Copa.
Odom’s Cooke takes the stage in a shiny suit that would be established as Cooke’s sartorial signature, though this sharkskin cloth actually looks like the skin of a shark in its silvery gray, coordinated to a skinny dupioni silk tie with a tonal dot and stripe pattern in an “uphill” direction that coordinates to the traditional sharkskin weave. He wears a white shirt, as he does for all of his on-screen performances, dressed at the cuffs with a set of white-filled round silver links.
Shaped by darts, the silver suit jacket diverges from the otherwise similar burgundy sharkskin suit in its detailing, such as the slimmer lapels with more obtusely angled notches. The lapels roll to two buttons very closely spaced at the waist. The built-up, padded shoulders with no sleevehead roping is more contemporary to the late ’50s, and the sleeves flare at the two-button cuffs. The welted breast pocket is empty, as usual, and the flapped pockets on the hips slant rearward. Cooke’s non-pleated suit trousers are cut to resemble the burgundy suit with their beltless waistband and frogmouth-style pockets.
Cooke’s Performance Green
“Cooke was into sharkskin, so we built a two-piece wine-colored suit and purchased one in jade green from Western Costume as seen in his concerts and on the Johnny Carson show,” Francine Jamison-Tanchuck told The Hollywood Reporter, suggesting that Odom may be wearing the same green suit both for the flashback show in Boston and his closing appearance on The Tonight Show.
For the Boston show Malcolm X recounts, Cooke is dressed in a green suit that takes on a teal cast under the stage lights. It’s cut in his usual style, a two-button single-breasted jacket with notch lapels and double vents, with the traditional layout of a welted breast pocket and straight jetted—rather than flapped—hip pockets. The shoulders are padded with some roping at the sleeveheads, and the two-button sleeves lack the flare present on the silver suit from the Copa. He wears another French-cuffed white shirt but with no tie, laying the open collar flat over the lapels of his suit jacket.
One Night in Miami concludes with Sam Cooke’s appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, where he debuts “A Change Is Gonna Come” after singing “Good Times”. (In reality, this performance was February 7, 1964, nearly two weeks before the pivotal night, with Cooke singing “Basin Street Blues” rather than “Good Times”.)
Cooke wears another shimmering green suit, almost identically detailed to what we saw in Boston save for the pocket flaps (though, to be fair, he could have had those tucked into his pockets for the earlier scene.) Sharkskin’s iridescent nature can be deceptive, but I believe we see enough of both suits for me to discern that the Carson show suit is actually a darker green, more olive than jade.
As Cooke did for the actual set, Odom wears a white cotton shirt with semi-spread collar and straight tie, depicted as a sage-colored silk with subtle “downhill” striping. His French cuffs are rigged with a set of substantial gold links, and he appears to be wearing a pair of more conventional black leather cap-toe derby shoes with his thin dress socks, coordinating to the black leather belt he wears with his trousers.
Casual Knitwear and Checked Trousers
Among all of his stylish sharkskin suits, Sam Cooke also gets to take it easy in some natty and comfortable sports wear, seen while serenading his wife Barbara (Nicolette Robinson, Odom’s real-life wife) in their Fontainebleau hotel room the afternoon before the Clay-Liston fight.
Cooke wears a pair of cream tattersall check trousers that look like they could have come from the singer’s actual closet as there are several photos from the early ’60s of the real Sam Cooke sporting similarly checked slacks with blazers, cardigans, and the occasional tie. The One Night in Miami trousers are patterned in a navy-and-gold tattersall check against a cream ground, finished with button-through back pockets and frogmouth front pockets like his other pants.
Cooke lounges in an open-knit short-sleeved shirt with a white slubbed body, detailed with three lime green bands around the torso and matching lime green ribbed waist and sleeve hems. There is a white woven collar and a quarter-zip closure with a silver ring pull. He completes the resort-ready look with a pair of white shoes.
Sam Cooke was an automotive enthusiast, cycling through a score of fashionable rides from sports cars to luxurious limousines through the shining years of his career from the late 1950s through the mid-’60s. His years touring with the gospel group The Soul Stirrers had reinforced the importance of a car that could withstand the stresses of traveling the country while also communicating status.
In 1957, the year that Cooke’s debut single “You Send Me” shot to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, Cooke obtained the first of a growing fleet of cars, an eggshell-painted Imperial LeBaron complete with dangerous fins and iconic Continental tire mounted on the trunk. The success of “You Send Me” financed Cooke’s dream car, a white ’58 Cadillac convertible with red leather upholstery and gold trim. Within a year, the Cadillac was totaled in a tragic accident that took the life of Cooke’s driver, Eddie Cunningham. After Cunningham’s death and the destruction of his first Cadillac, Cooke’s tours were served by a new Cadillac limousine and a Buick station wagon.
As Cooke’s success continued to grow into the 1960s, so too did his automotive collection as he added a white Corvette, a Jaguar E-Type, and a Maserati purchased from Eddie Fisher. The night he premiered at the Copa in June 1964, Allen Klein gifted Cooke with his updated dream car, a new Rolls-Royce costing $15,000.
In the spring of 1964, Cooke traded the Maserati for the bright red Ferrari that he would famously drive through the last night of his life that December. The actual car was a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso berlinetta sports coupe, though it’s depicted on screen as the even-rarer Ferrari 250 GTO, of which only 36 were produced.
Ferrari produced the 250 GT Lusso in limited numbers, with just over 350 manufactured during its production run from 1962 to 1964 and attracting star drivers like Sam Cooke, Steve McQueen, and Brian Wilson. It was powered by a 3.0-liter Tipo 168U V12 engine like the 250 GTO, though the Colombo engine of the 250 GT Lusso produced an output of 240 horsepower against the 250 GTO’s racing-oriented 290-horsepower engine that utilized a dry sump and six Weber carburetors. If the 250 GTO was designed for performance, the 250 GT Lusso was its more civilized cousin (“lusso” being Italian for “luxury”), offering a more spacious interior by positioning the engine in the front.
How to Get the Look
The flashiest dresser of the One Night in Miami quartet, Sam Cooke balances boldness and taste with his wine-hued sharkskin suit and tonally appropriate accompaniments.
- Burgundy sharkskin wool-and-mohair tailored suit:
- Single-breasted 2-button jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets, 4-button cuffs, double vents
- Flat-front high-rise trousers with fitted waistband, “frogmouth” front pockets, jetted back pockets, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Light pink shirt with spread collar, plain “French placket” front with covered buttons, and double/French cuffs
- Burgundy embroidered silk day cravat
- Black leather derby shoes with apron toe and woven leather vamps
- Burgundy cotton lisle socks
- Gold signet pinky ring
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie, currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
I began the new year by reading Peter Guralnick’s exhaustively researched volume on Cooke, Dream Boogie, and gained an even greater appreciation for the conflicted and charismatic entertainer. Of the events of February 25, 1964, Guralnick wrote:
Dee Dee Sharp, who was performing at the Sir John Hotel and had been seeing Cassius on and off for the last few months, had been planning a post-fight party for him, but Cassius chose to go back to the Hampton House with Malcolm, Sam, and Jim Brown, the football great, who had provided radio commentary for the fight.
They sat in Malcolm’s room with Osman Karriem and various Muslim ministers and supporters, eating vanilla ice cream and offering up thanks to Allah for Cassius’ victory, as an undercover FBI informant took note of this apparent nexus between the Nation of Islam and prominent members of the sports and entertainment industries. Sam was uncharacteristically quiet, taking in the magnificent multiplicity of the moment. To him, Cassius was not just a great entertainer but a kindred soul. He had made beating Liston look easy, and Sam was convinced he would beat him again. Because, armed with an analytic intelligence, he had made him afraid. Jim Brown, an outspoken militant himself, though not a member of the Nation, appeared to veteran black sports reporter Brad Pye Jr. to be more elated over Clay’s achievement than any of his own. “Well, Brown,” said Malcolm with a mixture of seriousness and jocularity, “don’t you think it’s time for this young man to stop spouting off and get serious?”
Everybody talks about they want a piece of the pie, well I don’t! I want the goddamn recipe.