Fact Check

Is This a Real Pic of Sam Cooke and Muhammad Ali from Their Younger Days?

Icons of the 1960s, the singer and the boxing champion were friends.

Published Aug 12, 2023

 (Screenshot via Twitter/AfricanArchives)
Image Via Screenshot via Twitter/AfricanArchives
A vintage photograph authentically shows boxer Muhammad Ali and singer Sam Cooke together in the early 1960s.

The photograph in question appears to be colorized, and shows Ali and Cooke during the Floyd Patterson vs. Sonny Liston boxing fight in Las Vegas in 1963.

In August 2023, a viral photograph purportedly showed boxing heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali standing alongside popular singer Sam Cooke in the 1960s. 

This is a real photograph, though it appears to be a colorized version of the original. The photograph is available in the Getty Images archives and was taken by Lee Balterman for Sports Illustrated magazine. It is in black and white and shows Ali and Cooke smiling and cheering side by side during the Floyd Patterson vs. Sonny Liston boxing match at the Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1963.

The photograph shows what most accounts say was a good friendship between the icons. At the time, Ali was still known as Cassius Clay, since he had not yet announced his conversion to Islam. Cooke was a popular musician and entrepreneur who many credit for bringing gospel and R&B music into mainstream popular culture. 

Their friendship was depicted in the 2020 film "One Night in Miami," which was a fictionalized account of an evening they spent together in a hotel with fellow Black icons activist Malcolm X and football player Jim Brown. After the young Clay unexpectedly beat Liston in a February 1964 match, the four men hung out in Hampton House hotel, a popular establishment for Black guests visiting Miami in the Jim Crow era. While it was widely reported that they spent the evening together, the specifics of their conversations were not known. The movie attempted to recreate the gathering using artistic license.

However, history shows that the very next day, Ali told the media that he had converted to Islam and his name would be Cassius X. Just several days later, he announced he would be known as Muhammad Ali.   

Even Leslie Odom Jr. the actor who played Cooke in the movie, shared the photograph on his Twitter account on Jan. 15, 2021:

Brown, who died in 2023, reflected on that night in a 2020 interview where he visited the historic Hamptons House again. 

This is an authentic photograph of Cooke and Ali. As such, we rate this claim as True. 


Bates, Karen Grigsby. "Muhammad Ali And Malcolm X: A Broken Friendship, An Enduring Legacy." NPR, 25 Feb. 2016. NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/02/25/467247668/muhammad-ali-and-malcolm-x-a-broken-friendship-an-enduring-legacy. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

Gross, Terry. "The Legacies Of Black Icons Sam Cooke, Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) And Malcolm X." NPR, 26 Feb. 2021. NPR, https://www.npr.org/2021/02/26/971770447/the-legacies-of-black-icons-sam-cooke-muhammad-ali-cassius-clay-and-malcolm-x. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

"Heavyweight Muhammad Ali with Singer Sam Cooke during Floyd Patterson..." Getty Images, https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/heavyweight-muhammad-ali-with-singer-sam-cooke-during-floyd-news-photo/107105464. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

"Jim Brown, Football Great and Activist, Dies at 87." ESPN.Com, 19 May 2023, https://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/37685864/all-great-running-back-jim-brown-dies-87. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

"Jim Brown Reflects on Night with Muhammad Ali & Malcolm X in "Miami 64"." Cleveland Browns. www.youtube.com, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-uq1K_gAXU. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

Solly, Meilan. "The True History Behind 'One Night in Miami.'" Smithsonian Magazine, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-history-behind-one-night-miami-180976768/. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

Trent, Sydney. "What Happened after a Boxer, a Revolutionary, a Singer and a Football Star Met in a 1960s Hotel Room." Washington Post, 17 Jan. 2021. www.washingtonpost.com, https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2021/01/16/one-night-miami-malcolm-x-muhammad-ali-sam-cooke/. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

"When Ali Met Malcolm X after Title Win." BBC Sport. www.bbc.com, https://www.bbc.com/sport/55614010. Accessed 8 Aug. 2023.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.

Read More

a Member

Your membership is the foundation of our sustainability and resilience.


Ad-Free Browsing on Snopes.com
Members-Only Newsletter
Cancel Anytime