Zelda Samuels (Songwriter, Office Manager of Sam Cooke’s Record and Publishing Companies and Manager of Mel Carter)
Zelda Samuels (b. December 22, 1928, Brooklyn, NY; d. August 14, 2021, Hollywood, CA), also known professionally as Zelda Sands (ASCAP), is an American songwriter/lyricist who is best known for the song Lookin’ For A Love (To Call My Own), co-written with J.W. Alexander, which was first recorded by The Valentinos (Womack Brothers) for SAR Records, (#8 Billboard R&B 1962). Other successful versions of the song were recorded by The J. Geils Band (#39 pop 1972) and Bobby Womack (#1 Billboard R&B March 1974).
From January 1961 until February 1964, Samuels worked as office manager for SAR Records and KAGS Music, the recording and music publishing companies established by Sam Cooke and J.W. Alexander in early 1960. The majority of her songs were co-written with Alexander and registered with KAGS, which would later be acquired by ABKCO Records, Inc. After leaving SAR/KAGS, Samuels became personal manager for singer Mel Carter, a position which she held for 27 years. Carter was the only recording artist she ever managed.
Early Life and Family
Samuels is the oldest child of Murray Samuels and Betty (Chaifetz) Samuels, both of whom were the children of Russian Jewish immigrants. Her father owned and operated a dairy company, while her mother was a homemaker. As the oldest child she often took care of her three younger siblings -brother Jerry, and sisters Annette and Eileen.
She was raised in Brooklyn until the family relocated to Woodmere on Long Island. She is a 1946 graduate of Lawrence High School in Cedarhurst.
Once out of high school, Samuels attended modeling school and then landed her first full time job in the music business as a clerk in the distribution department at Decca Records. The work was too monotonous and routine to keep her interest (working on spreadsheets keeping track of record sales and returns) and she quit after a month or so. She then found a job much more to her liking, as a secretary/model at J. Fried Coats & Suits in Manhattan where she stayed for approximately two years. At this time, she also entered and won several local bathing beauty contests, including Miss Cedarhurst (NY) and Miss Fourth of July at the Evans Hotel in Loch Sheldrake, NY. In the ensuing years she would be photographed for the cover of an adventure gentlemen’s magazine and for several record album covers.
At age 19, she married Arnold (Mickey) Goldschmidt, a high school classmate and medical student. They spent one year in Denver, Colorado, where Goldschmidt interned at the Spears Chiropractic Hospital. The couple lived in a ward on the hospital grounds where Samuels also worked as personal secretary to Dr. Leo Spears, the hospital’s founder.
Samuels left Goldschmidt in Denver and traveled to Jackson, Mississippi, where she filed for divorce. While in Jackson, waiting for the divorce to be finalized, she took a job as a disc jockey at WJXN radio. She then returned to New York, initially staying with her father and his second wife, Earlene, until she found a room for rent at the Columbus Hotel in Manhattan.
Entry into Music Business
Back in New York, Samuels landed her first serious job in the music business as secretary at Coral Records, a division of Decca. She worked for both Bob Thiele, who ran the label, and Dick Jacobs, the A&R director who would later become musical director for the television series, Your Hit Parade in 1957-58. At Coral she first made the acquaintance of many of the song writers who came to the office on a regular basis to pitch their songs and this started her on a path of writing songs on her own. Samuels also became good friends with country singer Mimi Roman and her mother, Estelle, who she first met in the Brill Building.
From 1956 to 1958, she was employed by Fred Fisher Music as a secretary and copyright specialist, working for both of Fred Fisher’s songwriting sons, Marvin Fisher (Marvin Music) and Dan Fisher (Danby Music).
Samuels wrote one of her earliest compositions, “Ice Can Melt”, in 1958. The song was eventually submitted to Mitch Miller at Columbia Records but went unrecorded when Samuels objected to the artist in question -Johnny Mathis– as he was new to the business and she wanted to have the song recorded by a more established artist.
She also collaborated on several songs with singer Jimmy Breedlove, a former member of the vocal group, The Cues. Breedlove was often used at Fred Fisher to record demos for other artists and, as a favor, he did a demo for one of Samuels’ songs, entitled “Lucky Someone”.
“King of My Heart,” recorded by Eileen Rodgers Columbia Records in 1959, was another of Samuels’ early efforts. The song’s ASCAP publisher, Redd Evans Music Co., insisted that the songwriter be an ASCAP member as well. Already registered to BMI as Zelda Samuels, and at a time when writers were not allowed to belong to both organizations, she registered with ASCAP as Zelda Sands, feeling the name was similar in sound to Samuels.
Needing additional money to cover expenses, Samuels began working two jobs –secretary at Fred Fisher by day and hat check girl at the Jamaican Room, a swanky Manhattan club, by night.
Following an extended illness, during which time she was laid off by Fred Fisher, Samuels found a new job as the main switchboard operator at Hill & Range Songs, Inc. There she worked for the owner, Julian Aberbach, and his cousin, Freddy Bienstock, who was in charge of Elvis Presley Music, a “subsidiary” of the company.
Association with Jack Hammer
Samuels met singer/songwriter Jack Hammer (Earl Solomon Burroughs, b. 09/16/1925; d. 04/08/2016) in the lobby of the Brill Building in 1958. Hammer had achieved recent notoriety as co-writer of the Jerry Lee Lewis classic, “Great Balls of Fire.”
Hammer and Samuels co-wrote several songs. “Furry Murray,” a novelty tune, was recorded by The Trade Winds on RCA Records [RCA 7553] by producers Hugo & Luigi. Another number, “Hawaiian Rock,” was recorded by Tommy Sands on Capitol Records.
In February 1960, Samuels left Hill & Range and relocated to London, England, where she returned to modeling. While in London she reconnected with Hammer, who was performing at a local club. Later that summer the two took a trip through Europe and attended several events at the Olympic Games in Rome. After Rome they made stops in Belgium and Germany where Hammer continued to perform. A serious relationship never materialized, however, and Samuels, unable to make inroads into the London modeling scene and quickly running out of money, ultimately left Europe. In late November 1960, she returned to the U.S. and flew directly to Los Angeles, where she intended to re-enter the music industry.
Association with Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke had struck it big on the pop chart in late 1957 with “You Send Me”. Samuels felt one of her songs, “Lucky Someone,” was similar in style to Cooke’s hit and would be a good fit for Cooke’s voice. She made arrangements to present the song to him.
Cooke opened his first engagement at the Copacabana Club in New York City on Thursday, March 6, 1958. Samuels called down to the club earlier in the afternoon and managed to speak with Cooke on the telephone. Cooke invited her to meet him after the show, and while she did join Cooke and his party for a late dinner, she never had the opportunity to pitch her song.
On Friday, May 1, 1959, friend Mimi Roman was a guest on The Jimmy Dean Show, a weekday variety show on CBS televised from what is now known as the Ed Sullivan Theater. Roman was visiting with another guest on the show and they began sharing jokes. Roman immediately thought of her friend Zelda, who was famous for telling jokes and funny stories. Roman called Samuels and asked her to meet them at the theater between rehearsals. When Samuels arrived at the theater she discovered the other guest on the show was none other than Sam Cooke.
In late November 1960, Samuels arrived in Los Angeles from Europe and began looking for work. One of her first stops was at Capitol Records, where she ran into Ed Townsend, who had recorded his hit record, “For Your Love”, for that label. Townsend suggested they go see J.W. Alexander at SAR Records. While visiting with Alexander, Cooke showed up at the office and promptly gave her a new nickname, “Chief Long Hair.” Cooke offered Samuels the use of the office to make telephone calls for her job search as there was no telephone at the motel where she was staying. Sonny Bono, then a promotion man for Specialty Records, also stopped by the office and offered to take Samuels with him on his rounds to the local radio stations so she could inquire about openings. She did not find work, but Bono did take the time to introduce her to a young lady friend he was working with, Cherilyn Sarkisian (Cher).
By late December 1960, Samuels was out of money, was still looking for a job, and was getting worried. She went to the Californian Club on Santa Barbara Avenue (now M.L. King Boulevard) on December 26 for “Monday Celebrity Night,” where she again ran into Sam Cooke. Cooke asked how her job search was going and out of frustration she began to cry. When he learned that Samuels had no money, Cooke insisted on giving her a $50 bill. Although she refused, Cooke slipped the bill into her coat pocket.
Cooke then got a great idea – how would Samuels like to work for SAR Records? “Just name a price,” he said, but “make it as low as possible.” Samuels made some quick calculations and told Cooke she would need $80 a week. Cooke said, “Okay, you’ve got a job.”
Samuels arrived at work on a Monday morning in early January 1961 and discovered no one was there. The building superintendent ended up letting her into the office, which was no more than the size of a large storage closet. It held a filing cabinet, two desks and an upright piano. Alexander called in later that morning and Samuels asked him, “when are you coming in?” Alexander replied he wasn’t coming in at all and instead was headed out on the road with Sam. (Cooke opened at the Apollo Theater in New York City on Friday, January 13.)
“What should I do?”, asked Samuels. “Whatever you think you should do” was the response. From that point on Samuels took the reins of all office operations, doing everything from ordering records, dealing with distributors, helping promote new releases, and acting as surrogate mother to several of the artists. During her tenure at SAR she was voted “PR person of the week” by Cash Box magazine.
In the spring of 1961, Samuels was visiting with Wink Martindale, morning DJ at KFWB. RCA had just released Sam’s latest single and was promoting the “A” side, “Farewell My Darling”. Samuels told Martindale that song wasn’t going to be the hit and suggested he flip the record over. Martindale took her advice and started playing the “B” side. Thanks in large part to the KFWB air play, “Cupid” took off nationally, and ultimately spent 11 weeks on the Billboard pop chart, peaking at #17 for three weeks in July and August.
In late 1962, Samuels went with Alexander to a downtown L.A. jazz club to hear a singer, Mel Carter, who, like Cooke, had his vocal roots in gospel music. Carter was a crooner, but Samuels was not initially impressed as she was not fond of jazz. Despite her objections, Cooke and Alexander signed Carter to their new subsidiary label, Derby, a label that Samuels had persuaded the two men to create for the company’s pop releases as SAR was fast becoming synonymous in radio circles as an R&B label.
Cooke recorded Carter on a composition he had written, “When A Boy Falls In Love”. Several other artists had been offered the song – Pat Boone, Johnny Nash, Lou Rawls – but none of them could get the phrasing down properly. On the day of the session, and after some vocal coaching from Cooke, Carter laid down a track that even Samuels became so fond of that she ultimately chose to become Carter’s manager. In her mind, Carter was the type of pop artist who could gain her entrance to the more established venues, “where I wanted to sit with my beaded gowns” and “where I could bring my parents.”
Samuels was convinced “When A Boy Falls In Love” would be a hit with proper promotion, but it would require play on white radio stations to make the crossover. Samuels had met a promotion man named Ernie Farrell at a KDAY radio event through an introduction from DJ Tommy Smalls. Farrell previously worked at Reprise Records for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., but he had recently been in an auto accident and was unemployed while recovering. Samuels insisted that Cooke and Alexander hire Farrell to promote the Carter single and Farrell accepted the job on her word alone, having not even heard the record. Farrell used his numerous radio contacts and a few of his schemes (e.g., feigning a heart attack during a telephone call with a disc jockey) to help the record make an appearance on the Billboard pop chart, peaking at #44 the week of August 31, 1963.
Musician and AFO Records producer Harold Battiste, Jr. and his partner, Melvin Lastie, popped into the SAR Records office in the summer of 1963 looking for work. As he stated in his autobiography, “The attractive Black lady who greeted us made us feel comfortable. She seemed as though she was glad to see some brothers out there.” Samuels got the okay from Alexander to give the two some work doing lead sheets for copyright registrations. As Battiste stated, “Samuels … had the fire on that team. From her position as secretary, she knew everything and was the stealth mover and shaker. She loved Sam Cooke with an obvious passion, but she kept her hands off! She clearly admired Sam as a major talent and a professional but never let anything get to the personal level.”
Cooke first met Allen Klein in Philadelphia in March 1963 while performing at the State Theater, an engagement he took as a favor to R&B radio DJ “Jocko” Henderson. After a series of meetings and conversations over the ensuing months, Cooke agreed to hire Klein as manager of the SAR Records and KAGS Music catalogs. That summer, Klein made a visit to the SAR office in Hollywood where he met Samuels, announcing that he was Sam Cooke’s new manager and then asking her to get the copyright certificates out of the filing cabinet. Samuels asked, “why?” Klein said he planned to take all the copyrights back to New York with him. Samuels responded, “no” and refused to hand over the certificates to Klein.
When Cooke returned to Los Angeles and learned what had transpired between Samuels and Klein he was annoyed. Samuels explained to Cooke the significance of the registrations and how it would have been possible for Klein to transfer the copyrights into his name. It was the one and only time, Samuels claims, that she and Cooke ever argued about anything related to the business. Samuels once told Cooke and Alexander, “I have to teach you both how to be bosses.” Until her last day at SAR Records, the copyright certificates for all the KAGS Music compositions remained locked in the filing cabinet next to her desk.
In the latter part of 1963, Samuels proposed that she and Cooke enter into a “co-management agreement” with respect to SAR artists, including Mel Carter. Being able to use Cooke’s name as co-manager, in Samuels’ mind, would be attractive to white radio because of Cooke’s hit records on RCA. Carter had recently visited Allen Klein in his New York office while on a promotional tour of the East Coast and had called Samuels from there. Carter told Samuels that he did not want to sign a management contract with Klein. He was interested in having a career like Johnny Mathis, who also happened to have a female manager. Klein later set down an ultimatum to Samuels– either stay at SAR/Derby as an employee or leave and become Carter’s manager.
Shortly thereafter, Samuels left SAR Records and became Mel Carter’s manager. To this day, she always called the time spent as the office manager of Sam’s record and publishing companies as the most enjoyable job she ever had. “How many people go to their office and don’t want to leave?”
In the early morning hours of Friday, December 11, 1964, Samuels was awakened by a phone call from KFWB disc jockey Larry McCormick, who told her that Sam Cooke had been shot and killed earlier that morning. Samuels recalls very little about that time. “The next few days, I don’t even know. My friends tell me about it.”
Cooke’s second funeral was held at the Mount Sinai Baptist Church in Los Angeles on Saturday, December 19, 1964. (The first service had been held in Chicago on Thursday, December 17, following a coroner’s inquest in Los Angeles on Wednesday, December 16.) The mass of fans surrounding the church on West Adams Boulevard made it difficult for attendees to arrive. Due to the rainy weather and traffic, Samuels arrived late and had to force her way inside the church after the service had begun. A reverend advised her that no one else could come in and Samuels just began swinging her fists. Ultimately, she and her guest, songwriter Diane Rogers, made their way inside the church and were seated in the second row. She never spoke to Barbara Cooke.
Personal Manager for Mel Carter
A few weeks after her departure from SAR Records, Samuels ran into Cooke on the sidewalk at Hollywood Boulevard and Wilcox. She asked Cooke for Mel Carter’s release from Derby Records. She had been inquiring around town and knew that several record labels were interested in signing Carter. Samuels said to Cooke, “I want to show you. I’ll put Mel where you should have been! … I’ll show you how it should be done. Just give [Mel] back to me.”
Cooke relented and agreed to the release. Samuels signed Carter to an exclusive management contract, then followed that up by negotiating a recording contract at Imperial Records, later becoming part of Liberty Records. One of Carter’s earliest Imperial releases, “The Richest Man Alive”, was a song that Samuels (Zelda Sands ASCAP) co-wrote with Michel Rubini. Carter performed the song on “American Bandstand” in late December 1964, just two weeks after Sam Cooke’s death.
Carter’s most recognized hit for Liberty, “Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me”, was a remake of the Harry Noble song first released by Karen Chandler on Coral Records in 1952. The song had been suggested to Carter and Samuels by Liberty Records Vice President, Bob Skaff. Samuels had final say on all releases and thought it would be perfect for him. “Hold Me” spent 15 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at the #8 position the week of August 28, 1965. Although the song has been recorded by a number of artists, the version most associated with the song was recorded by Carter.
Samuels also wanted Carter’s music career to include a song in a major motion picture. She negotiated directly with director Carl Reiner and got Carter the title song to the 1967 motion picture, “Enter Laughing”.
To diversify his career, Samuels sent Carter to acting school. Through that training he landed roles on television programs such as Quincy, M.E., Medical Center, Sanford and Son, Marcus Welby, M.D., CHiPs, Magnum, P.I. and Murder on the Flip Side (The Eddie Capra Mysteries) (1978). He also appeared in the motion pictures Friday Foster (1975), Chesty Anderson, USN (1976), Prime Time (aka American Raspberry) (1977), and Angel (1984).
Samuels remained Carter’s manager for the next 27 years. Despite receiving employment offers from Motown Records and other agencies, Samuels elected to work exclusively for Carter until they severed their professional relationship in 1990.
Other Writing Partnerships
Samuels met singer/songwriter Jackie DeShannon (“What The World Needs Now Is Love”) in Hollywood in late 1961 and the two began writing songs together. One night, Samuels was telling DeShannon a popular joke making the rounds at the time that contained a strange punch line. DeShannon picked up her guitar and came up with a melody. The song, based on the punch line, was “Hark, Is That a Cannon I Hear”. It was recorded by Bobby Vee and appeared on his Liberty Records LP, “Take Good Care of My Baby”.
She also co-wrote several songs in the early 1960’s with Fred Sledge Smith, who had written, along with Cliff Goldsmith, several hit records for The Olympics in the late 1950’s. Two of the Samuels/Smith compositions, “Bounce Again” and “Dancin’ Holiday”, were released on the Tri Disc label, a spin-off of the Arvee Records label, where Smith had worked as an A&R man.
While still managing Mel Carter in the 1980’s, Samuels worked as a booking agent for Greg’s Blue Dot, a well-known gay club in Hollywood. She booked such acts for the club as The Shirelles, Etta James, Darlene Love, Chubby Checker, Martha Reeves, Mike Clifford, and The Platters.
Samuels also worked alongside Christian de Walden, a record producer, to book Hollywood celebrities for personal appearances in Europe, primarily for guest spots on Italian television. Acts she booked included Faye Dunaway, Pamela Anderson, Van Johnson, Bo Derek, Angie Dickinson, David Soul and LaToya Jackson.
Zelda had the business acumen to run a record company and manage talent, and the creativity to pen the lyrics to one of the most popular songs in rock and roll history. She crossed color lines and broke glass ceilings. Given her stunning looks she could have easily settled on a modeling career. Her intellect and passion however demanded nothing less than taking on the role of a successful pioneer who broke down barriers and paved the way for others to be true to their heart and share their gifts. Her gifts have forever enriched American culture.
Selected Song Catalog
The following chart is a selected compilation of songs written or co-written by Samuels/Sands, along with artist and label information and year of release.
|After The Parting The Meeting Is Sweeter||J.W. Alexander; Zelda Samuels||Mel Carter||Derby 1008||1964|
|Bounce Again||Fred Smith; Zelda Samuels||The Olympics||Tri Disc 110||1963|
|Candy Camera||Zelda Samuels; Ernie Farrell||Ernie Farrell and his Paper Music Band||Colpix CP 775||1965|
|Dancin’ Holiday||Zelda Samuels; Diane Rogers; Fred Smith||The Olympics||Tri Disc 107||1963|
|Double Portion Of Love||Zelda Samuels; J.W. Alexander||Simms Twins||SAR 130||1962|
|Everything Stops For A Little While||Mel Carter; Jo Ann Marks; Zelda Samuels||Mel Carter||Amos AJB-120||1969|
|Furry Murray||Jack Hammer; Zelda Samuels||The Tradewinds||RCA 47-7553||1959|
|Hark, Is That A Cannon I Hear||Jackie De Shannon; Zelda Samuels||Bobby Vee||Take Cood Care Of My Baby (LP) Liberty LRP 3211||1961|
|Hawaiian Rock||Jack Hammer; Zelda Samuels||Tommy Sands||Capitol F-3953||1958|
|I Don’t Need Nobody But You||J.W. Alexander; Zelda Samuels||Johnnie Morisette||SAR 147||1963|
|I Haven’t Got Time To Cry||Zelda Samuels; Mel Carter||Irma Thomas||Take A Look (LP) Imperial LP9302||1966|
|If You Don’t Come, You Better Call||J.W. Alexander; Zelda Samuels||Patience Valentine||SAR 119||1961|
|If You Lose Her||Tom Baird; Zelda Samuels; Mel Carter||Mel Carter||Imperial 66183||1965|
|If You’re Wondering||Zelda Samuels; Mel Carter||Mel Carter||(All Of A Sudden) My Heart Sings (LP) Imperial 9300||1965|
|King Of My Heart||Zelda Sands (ASCAP)||Eileen Rodgers||Columbia 4-41334||1959|
|Lookin’ For A Love||J.W. Alexander; Zelda Samuels||The Valentinos; Bobby Womack; The J. Geils Band||SAR 132; United Artists UA-XW375-W; Atlantic (LP) ATL 10 102||1962; 1973; 1971|
|Richest Man Alive, The||Zelda Sands; Michel Rubini (ASCAP)||Mel Carter||Imperial IM-66078||1964|
|So Goodbye||Ernie Farrell; Zelda Samuels||The Olympics||Tri Disc 112||1963|
|Talkin’ Trash||Sam Cooke; Zelda Samuels; J.W. Alexander||Sam Cooke||3 Great Guys (LP) RCA LSP 2720||1964|
|Unlucky Girl||Fred Smith; Zelda Samuels||Patience Valentine||SAR 142||1963|
|We’ll Bless Each Day With Our Love||J.W. Alexander; Zelda Samuels||Mel Carter||When A Boy Falls In Love (LP) Derby 702||1963|
|We Two Forever Shall Be One||Zelda Samuels; J.W. Alexander||Paul & Paula||We Go Together (LP) Philips PHS-600-089||1963|
|When I Hold The Hand Of The One I Love||Zelda Sands; Mel Carter||Mel Carter||Imperial 66138||1965|
|You Can Count On Me||J.W. Alexander; Zelda Samuels||Mel Carter||When A Boy Falls In Love (LP) Derby 702||1963|
- Personal interviews conducted with Samuels between March and June 2018.
- Wolff, Daniel (1995). You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke. William Morrow and Company. p. 232. ISBN 978-0688146207. Search this book on
- Guralnick, Peter (2005). Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke. Little, Brown Company. p. 360–361. ISBN 978-0316013291. Search this book on
- Wolff, Daniel (1995). You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke. William Morrow and Company. p. 265. ISBN 978-0688146207. Search this book on
- Battiste Jr., Harold (2010). Unfinished Blues: Memories of a New Orleans Music Man (1st ed.). Historic New Orleans Collection. p. 75. ISBN 978-0917860553. Search this book on
- Wolff, Daniel (1995). You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke. William Morrow and Company. p. 289. ISBN 978-0688146207. Search this book on
- Wolff, Daniel (1995). You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke. William Morrow and Company. p. 299. ISBN 978-0688146207. Search this book on
- Wolff, Daniel (1995). You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke. William Morrow and Company. p. 320. ISBN 978-0688146207. Search this book on
- Wolff, Daniel (1995). You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke. William Morrow and Company. p. 332. ISBN 978-0688146207. Search this book on
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