The song was written by Sam Cooke in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Cooke had heard and was impressed by Bob Dylan’s song “Blowin’ in the Wind” and wanted to write something along those lines. At the time, Cooke was also mourning the death of his 18-month-old son Vincent, who drowned in a swimming pool in 1963. Some of Cooke’s songs became more introspective and serious. As an African-American, Cooke had endured his share of prejudice. There was an incident where he and some of his friends were denied rooms at a hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana, because of their skin color, and were subsequently arrested for disturbing the peace.
“A Change is Gonna Come” was first released on Cooke’s 1964 album Ain’t That Good News. It was his thirteenth and final studio album. The song was released as a single shortly after Cooke’s death. In 1964, the song went to #31 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and #9 on the R&B chart. It became an anthem for the Civil Rights Movement and is preserved in the Library of Congress with the National Recording Registry, which contains songs that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”
Cooke’s death in December, 1964, at the age of 33 was one of those strange celebrity deaths. He was shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles. It was ruled that the manager acted in self-defense, as Cooke was “distressed.” However, Cooke owned his own label and publishing company and it might have been part of a plot. Over the years, many details have been questioned.