clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Zelda Sands, songwriter who, as Sam Cooke’s office manager, protected his copyrights, dead at 92

An accomplished composer herself, she managed the offices of the legendary singer’s record and publishing companies.

Zelda Sands in the offices of Sam Cooke’s SAR/Derby records & Kags music company. 
Zelda Sands in the offices of Sam Cooke’s SAR/Derby records & Kags music company. 
Provided

One of the last links to one of Chicago’s greatest singers has died.

Zelda Sands, an accomplished songwriter who managed the offices of Sam Cooke’s record and publishing companies, “broke one glass ceiling after the other,” said G. David Tenenbaum, a Chicago native and co-author of the book “You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke.”

Singer Mel Carter said he found Ms. Sands, 92, unresponsive Saturday at her apartment in Hollywood, Calif.

She was a friend and former manager of Carter, who recorded hits including “Hold Me, Kiss Me, Thrill Me.”

Zelda Sands and singer Mel Carter, whose career she managed for decades.
Zelda Sands and singer Mel Carter, whose career she managed for decades.
Donald Piper

A lyricist, she wrote under her birth name — Zelda Samuels — and her professional name Zelda Sands, according to Donald Piper, president of the Sam Cooke Fan Club.

Ms. Sands composed the words to “Lookin’ for a Love,” which was recorded by the Valentinos, Bobby Womack, Sam Moore, Rod Stewart, Squeeze, Rufus Thomas and The J. Geils Band, whose version was featured in the 1985 movie “The Falcon and the Snowman.” She helped write Cooke’s “Talkin’ Trash,” Irma Thomas’ “I Haven’t Got Time to Cry” and “Dancin’ Holiday,” recorded by Carter and also by the Miracles.

With Jackie DeShannon, she wrote “Hark, is That a Cannon I Hear?” for Bobby Vee. She also helped write “You’re Just What I Needed,” recorded by Chubby Checker, “Dancin’ Holiday,” recorded by the Olympics and the Miracles, and “After the Parting,” recorded by Carter and by Patti Page.

“She had a sense as a lyricist for what worked, for what makes a good story for a song, “ Piper said.

Cooke, a Wendell Phillips High School alum, hired Ms. Sands to manage the Los Angeles offices for his SAR record company and its Derby division as well as his publishing company Kags Music, according to Tenenbaum and Piper. Cooke was one of the first performers to own his record and publishing companies.

Many men in the 1960s music industry underestimated Ms. Sands because of her beauty, Carter said. They didn’t notice how hard she worked to protect Cooke’s interests, according to Piper and Tenenbaum.

“She had a really good business sense,” Tenenbaum said. “She knew how to run it — how to get royalties, how to get paid by the distributors and how to get disc jockeys to play the records.”

“Zelda was making the rounds in Hollywood one day and talked to Wink Martindale,” a radio disc jockey, Piper said.

The station had been playing one of Cooke’s singles — “Farewell My Darling” — but it was underperforming. Piper said Ms. Sands “suggested he flip it over.”

The flip side, “Cupid,” became a monster hit.

Her friends said Ms. Sands, a Brooklyn native, was skilled at protecting Mr. Cooke’s copyrights because of her music industry experience. She’d once worked in the offices of “Chicago” composer Fred Fisher in New York’s famed Brill Building, an incubator for songwriters and artists. She started out as a secretary for Coral Records, a subsidiary of Decca, Piper said.

Cooke was a member of the Soul Stirrers, a legendary gospel group that performed at many Black churches in Chicago. He went on to fame with a string of hits that also included “Another Saturday Night,” “Chain Gang,” “Having a Party,” “Only Sixteen,” “Twistin’ the Night Away” and “You Send Me.” His “A Change is Gonna Come” is considered a civil rights anthem.

Zelda Sands standing in front of a TV playing a documentary for which she was interviewed, “Lady You Shot Me: the Life and Times of Sam Cooke.”
Zelda Sands standing in front of a TV playing a documentary for which she was interviewed, “Lady You Shot Me: the Life and Times of Sam Cooke.”
Donald Piper

Ms. Sands always questioned the ruling of justifiable homicide in Cooke’s fatal 1964 shooting by a Los Angeles motel clerk who said he attacked her.

“She claimed she didn’t know who he was, which is a stone-a-- lie,” Ms. Sands said in the documentary “Lady You Shot Me: the Life and Death of Sam Cooke.”

Ms. Sands was a grandchild of Russian Jewish immigrants, according to Piper.

“She was something,” Piper said. “She was very independent, just wanted to be out on her own.”