Born in England in 1944, Joe Cocker was one of rock's most distinctive singers. He first rose to fame in the late 1960s with his cover of the Beatles' song "With a Little Help From My Friends." Cocker performed at the legendary Woodstock music festival in 1969. The following year, he released the live album Mad Dogs & Englishmen, which included such hits as "The Letter." More successful singles soon followed, including "Cry Me a River" and "Feeling Alright." Cocker won a Grammy Award in 1982 for "Up Where We Belong," his duet with Jennifer Warnes. An Academy Award for Best Original Song followed the next year. Some of Cocker's later albums include Hard Knocks (2010) and Fire It Up (2012). Cocker died in 2014.
Born on May 20, 1944, in Sheffield, England, singer Joe Cocker counted Ray Charles and Lonnie Donegan among his early influences. He made his singing debut with his brother Victor's skiffle band when he was only 12 years old. Several years later Cocker became a drummer and harmonica player for a band called the Cavaliers. Before long, however, Cocker took his rightful position at the front of the stage as a singer, working a day job as a gas fitter for the East Midlands Gas Board while he tried to make it as a performer.
Cocker tried his hand at pop music, performing as Vance Arnold and releasing a single on Decca Records in 1964. When it flopped, Decca dropped Cocker and he dropped his stage name, performing briefly with a new group before taking a break from music altogether. He returned in 1966 by forming the Grease Band, eventually landing a minor hit in the United States with the song "Marjorine."
Cocker landed his first number-one single in his native England in 1968 with his rendition of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends." His cover of the iconic song was later featured as the theme song for the television series The Wonder Years. His album of the same name featured such guest performers as Jimmy Page and Steve Winwood. In 1969, Cocker hit the British charts again with "Delta Lady." This rough yet soulful singer also toured the United States that same year. His time in America included a career-boosting performance at the famed Woodstock music festival. Cocker started to attract a quite following with his bluesy rock sound. He also became known for his unpredictable way of dancing on stage.
With the 1970 live album Mad Dogs & Englishmen, Cocker rose to the top 10 of American pop charts with "The Letter." The album proved to be a huge success and also included several other hit singles, such as "Cry Me a River." Over the next few years, he made the charts a few more times with such songs as "High Time We Went" and "Feeling Alright." As the 1970s progressed, however, Cocker's substance abuse began to affect his performances, though in 1975 he did manage to make it back into the charts with the smash hit "You Are So Beautiful."
In the 1980s Cocker had a career renaissance. His duet with Jennifer Warnes, "Up Where We Belong," was the title track for the Richard Gere-Debra Winger drama An Officer and a Gentleman. The ballad became a number-one hit and earned the pair a Grammy Award win for best pop performance by a duo or group with vocal in 1982 and the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1983. At the close of the decade, Cocker returned to the pop charts again with "When the Night Comes."
Death and Legacy
In his later years, Cocker remained active on the music scene. He kept recording, releasing Have a Little Faith (1994), Hymn for My Soul (2007) and Hard Knocks (2010), among many others. In 2012, Cocker put out his 23rd album, Fire It Up, which also proved to be his last. He died in Crawford, Colorado, on December 22, 2014, from complications relating to lung cancer. The legendary singer was survived by his wife Pam, his stepdaughter Zoey and two grandchildren.
Many members of the music world mourned Cocker's passing. Ringo Starr was just one of the people who took to Twitter to express their sadness, tweeting "Goodbye and God bless to Joe Cocker from one of his friends."
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