Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


BURKE, Solomon

(b 21 March 1940, Philadelphia; d 10 October 2010, Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam) Soul singer, ordained minister. Earlier reports had him born in 1936, but he said in a recent interview that it was 1940. He was a soloist in church at age nine, had his own radio show Solomon's Temple, on stage as the Wonder Boy Preacher, and became one of the biggest soul stars of the '60s, one of those who ignored the border between country and soul.

He recorded religious ballads on the Apollo label '55 and went to the Singular label '59; 'Be-Bop Grandma' was picked up by Atlantic, followed by 22 Hot 100 pop entries, 15 soul chart hits on that label '61-8 including 'Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Empty Arms)' '61 (no. 7 soul/24 pop hit with a country song may have inspired Ray Charles's smash hit 'I Can't Stop Loving You', '62); 'Cry To Me', no. 5 soul/44 pop '62 was covered by the Rolling Stones. His eclectic material included 'Down In The Valley' (covered by Otis Redding), 'You Can Make It If You Try' and 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' (both also covered by the Stones). Dubbed the 'King of Rock'n' Soul', as he described own style; his live act was said to be even better than records.

He took on a heavier gospel feel c.1964: 'The Price', 'Can't Nobody Love You', 'Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye)' oozed fervour. The hits were produced by Bert Berns or Jerry Wexler; after Berns' departure Burke lost some of the power: the hits continued, but 'Got To Get You Off My Mind' and 'Tonight's The Night' were his last top ten soul entries. He went to the the Bell label '69; he produced his own LP Proud Mary that year at Muscle Shoals, had a a top 50 pop hit (no. 15 soul) in the title cover of John Fogerty's song, and the album also charted. He spent three years with MGM; then to ABC Dunhill (I Have A Dream '74 was a tribute LP to Martin Luther King); teamed with arranger Gene Page for Barry White-influenced singles 'Midnight And You' (Dunhill), 'You And Your Baby Blues' (Chess).

During the 1970s he worked as an undertaker and a mortician in Los Angeles. A return to the charts seemed likely with 'Sidewalks, Fences And Walls' on Infinity late '79, but the label went broke. 'Everybody Needs Somebody To Love' was featured in The Blues Brothers '80, and 'Cry To Me' in Dirty Dancing. After A Change Is Gonna Come '85 on Rounder he made two gospel albums for Savoy, and toured in the Soul Clan revival with Atlantic stablemates Wilson Pickett, Ben E. King, Don Covay and Joe Tex. The Atlantic albums Greatest Hits, If You Need Me, Rock'N'Soul And King Solomon were reissued on Sequel.

The Definition Of Soul '97 on Pointblank had him singing as well as ever. The Grammy-winning Don't Give Up On Me on Fat Possum 2002 featured songs written for him by Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and others. Nashville in 2006 was produced by Buddy Miller, country songs with duet partners such as Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and Dolly Parton. Nothing's Impossible on E1 was recorded with famed soul producer Willie Mitchell, who died in January 2010, and was released in April that year. Solomon Burke died on his way to a sold-out concert with the Dutch band De Dijk, with whom he had recorded Hold On Tight, available as a download.