How to Cure Childhood Anxiety, One Sam Cooke Album at a Time

When Dad routinely came home after midnight, only music soothed my childhood soul

Bassey Ikpi
Published in
5 min readFeb 19, 2020


A photo of a young black girl sleeping with her head on her dad’s lap.
Photo: John Fedele/Getty Images

MyMy early memories of life, growing up in Stillwater, Oklahoma, are fraught. We were immigrants and my parents were full-time students working multiple jobs while trying their best to parent a child they could barely understand, in a country that refused to understand them. To say it was difficult is to understate the struggle, but thanks to my daddy, Sam Cooke was part of the soundtrack. Throughout the late work nights and parental absences that eventually stoked my lifetime battle with anxiety, Cooke’s voice was that low hum in the background, an endless loop of obscenely clever ad-libs and the kind of soul-drenched wailing that can only come from the pit of a genius soul.

It soothed.

MyMy father usually came home around midnight, right when the late-night radio DJ played the “hits.” I was too young to know about station programming, but I knew they played those songs just for us. Sometimes, when I was feeling brave, I would hide in the dark and watch my father move through the quiet while he found the music. He walked in slowly. Tired, he would hang his coat on the nearest chair and turn on the stereo in the living room. It was a wood-paneled monstrosity — an eight-track player, turntable, and radio with metal legs nearly as tall as me. I loved to hear him spin the dial, looking for his station. Loved the gibberish of voices found and then lost. I knew he would find it. It was the same station I listened to as an eight-year-old me burrowed beneath my Wonder Woman blanket in my bedroom, unable to sleep.

That’s how Daddy introduced me to Sam. During those long nights of waiting for him to come home, Sam’s voice sounded cool and comforting, like water — always there protecting my daddy and me. Soothing my worry. Soothing his weary. Soothing an entire nation on edge with his distinct, soulful vocals that opened doors for so many other stars of that time — opened doors for me. Sam sang “Cupid,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come,” but mostly I remember “Bring It On Home to Me” on the radio during those late-night secret reunions that marked my childhood: