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Sam Gooden, founding member of the Impressions soul group, dies at 87

Mr. Gooden of the Impressions, performing during The Message in the Music concert in conjunction with the dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Aug. 25, 2011.Ann Heisenfelt/Associated Press

Sam Gooden, an original member of the Impressions, the influential soul group that expressed the ideals of the civil rights movement of the 1960s through such songs as “People Get Ready” and “We’re a Winner,” died Aug. 4 at his home in Chattanooga, Tenn. He was 87.

The cause was a heart attack, said his wife, Gloria.

Starting out as a doo-wop quintet fronted by singer Jerry Butler, the Impressions recorded their breakthrough hit, “For Your Precious Love,” in 1958. They garnered their widest acclaim a few years later, after shrinking to a trio featuring singer-songwriter and guitarist Curtis Mayfield and two singers, Mr. Gooden and Fred Cash.

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The Impressions' upbeat style, which became known as "the Chicago sound" for the city where they recorded, was as pervasive on the radio as the Motown sound coming out of Detroit. The group put 39 songs on the Billboard Hot 100, ranging from the haunting love ballad "Gypsy Woman" (1961) to the rallying cry "Keep on Pushing" (1964).

Their impassioned delivery - whether retooling a traditional spiritual like "Amen" (1964) or creating a new one such as Mayfield's widely covered "People Get Ready" (1965) - gave listeners hope at a time of social upheaval.

Social concerns typified the Impressions' lyrics. "We're a Winner" (1967), an anthem of Black upward mobility, featured the lines, "We'll just keep on pushin' / Like your leaders tell you to / At last that blessed day has come / And I don't care where you come from." And while a love song like Mayfield's "Minstrel and Queen" might invoke romantic visions of medieval times, the songwriter said he intended it as a metaphor of interracial love.

In Jamaica, the Impressions' fans included Bob Marley and the Wailers. Marley recorded several of their songs and frequently performed "People Get Ready" as a medley with his own song, "One Love."

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Though Mayfield, a falsetto tenor, typically sang lead, he traded lines and verses with Mr. Gooden, a baritone and bass who was featured on songs such as “Woman’s Got Soul” (1965) and the Impressions’ biggest seller, “It’s All Right” (1963). Mr. Gooden also fronted the group on the Mayfield ballad “Aware of Love” and their rendition of “I Wanna Be Around,” popularized by Tony Bennett.

Samuel Gooden was born Sept. 2, 1934, in Chattanooga. His father was a minister, and his mother was a missionary who sang with his sisters in a gospel quartet.

In Chattanooga, Mr. Gooden performed in a group called Four Roosters and a Chick, featuring Cash, singer Catherine Thompson, and brothers Arthur and Richard Brooks. In his mid-20s, Mr. Gooden moved to Chicago, where he and the Brookses joined Mayfield and Butler to form Jerry Butler and the Impressions. They shortened the name when Butler and the Brooks brothers left in the early 1960s.

In addition to his wife of 60 years, the former Gloria Driver; Mr. Gooden leaves four children; 11 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

After Mayfield left the group in 1970 to embark on a solo career, the Impressions continued to record with a new lead singer, Leroy Hutson, who sang on their last Top 20 hit, “Finally Got Myself Together (I’m A Changed Man),” in 1974. A later version of the group accompanied Eric Clapton on his 2001 album, “Reptile,” and Mr. Gooden continued to tour with the band until they retired in 2018.

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The Impressions were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Mr. Gooden said he had never expected the group to be so successful or acclaimed.

“What I thought it would be was that it would play out after a couple of years, and we’d all go find some other jobs to do,” he told the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 2007, more than 50 years after the group first performed together. “But it kept going and people kept buying the records. Fifty years, I look at guys like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. - these type of guys. That’s where the 50 years comes in. I never thought we would have 50 years.”