//Performing Arts: Sam Hooper

Performing Arts: Sam Hooper

Reconnecting with the glory days.

By Joe Miller
Musician Sam Hooper

Photos by Damian Eduardos

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Sam Hooper has played arenas in China, a blues festival in Finland, jazz clubs across the U.S., and cruise ships on the Caribbean.

But since the COVID pandemic shut down the world, Hooper, a 1975 Shaker Heights High School graduate, has gone back to his roots for his latest stage, streaming live to fans from the basement of his childhood home in the Moreland neighborhood.

“It’s the same room we used to jam in back in junior high and high school,” Hooper says.

If only the wood wall paneling (still original) could talk. It was here, nearly 50 years ago, that Hooper and two classmates practiced for their “legendary debut” at the Woodbury Junior High School talent show. Calling themselves “Caboose,” the trio performed Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” with Hooper doing his best Jimi Hendrix impression — playing his red Epiphone EA-250 guitar in red bellbottoms while kneeling on his mother’s white bathroom rug.

“People still talk about that talent show,” he says with a laugh.

Hooper no longer does impersonations.

A graduate of the University of Miami’s School of Music and Berklee College’s songwriting program in Boston, Hooper today performs his own songs – a brand of blues blended with pop, funk, and jazz influences – as leader of the Sam Hooper Group. He has self-produced five CDs and has had two songs featured on the daytime soap operas, “The Young and the Restless” and “All My Children.”

His talent and passion for the music have earned the Sam Hooper Group gigs around the globe, from B.B. King’s Blues Club in Memphis to the House of Blues and Jazz in Shanghai, where his band did more than 300 shows.

Hooper’s musical journey launched in 1965 when his parents, Earline and the late Lorenzo Hooper, moved from Cleveland to Shaker for better schools. The Hoopers became leaders in the push for school integration under the Shaker Schools Plan, and were among the first African American families to voluntarily bus their children to the other side of town. Hooper credits his parents’ activism for preparing him and his two sisters for success in college and beyond.

Musician Sam Hooper“I remember them having meetings at our house about the Shaker Schools Plan,” Hooper says. “I tell my mom today that moving to Shaker was one of the best decisions they ever made.”

But the real springboard for Hooper’s career was the local music scene.

The way Hooper describes Shaker during the early 1970s, talent seemed to thrive on every block.

Area artists Gaetano Letizia and Don Banks taught him guitar; longtime Woodbury band director Ralph Tinianow taught him clarinet. Hooper later worked as an instructor at the Dick Lurie Guitar Studio in Cleveland Heights, a popular hangout for East Side musicians.

Opportunities to perform were everywhere. Hooper played in Shaker’s marching and jazz bands. On Sundays, he performed at his family’s church, St. James AME in Cleveland, where he still plays.

But for the most part, Hooper and his friends rocked out in Shaker’s garages and basements, including his own.

“We did a lot of jamming back then,” he says.

Since returning to Shaker eight years ago to take care of his mother, Hooper has been reconnecting with those glory days on stage with old friends at local spots, including a webcast show at the Music Settlement’s Bop Stop in November.

Hooper is also focused on teaching at Roots of American Music, a non-profit founded by his friend and former Dick Lurie co-worker Kevin Richards. At Roots, Hooper connects kids to classic artists and helps lead teams of teens in the annual “Stop the Hate” songwriting contest, an antiracism and anti-bullying partnership with the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

“At first I was a bit anxious. I never had to co-write a song with a group of 20 or 30 kids before,” he says. “It’s opened my eyes to what these kids go through. I really try to bring out their experiences so that they have ownership of the songs.”

Learn more at samhooper.com.

Originally published in Shaker Life, Winter 2021.
2021-01-07T16:47:06+00:00Arts & Entertainment|