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 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.
“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,”
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.” SL
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