Sad news today that legendary singer Solomon Burke died Sunday in the Netherlands.
There’s a lot you could say about the man, and I would recommend reading this article by Charles Young of Rolling Stone, who wrote an excellent profile of Burke in the past. If you’re not familiar with Burke, it’s a good piece.
The New York Times also did a fantastic job with the obituary, so we’ll let them do the talking on this one:
Solomon Burke, a singer whose smooth, powerful articulation and mingling of sacred and profane themes helped define soul music in the early 1960s, died on Sunday at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. He was 70 and lived in Los Angeles.
His death was announced by his family on his official web site, thekingsolomonburke.com. No cause was given.
Drawing on gospel, country and gritty rhythm and blues in songs like “Cry to Me” (1962), “You Can Make It if You Try” (1963) and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” (1964), Mr. Burke developed a vocal style that was nuanced yet forceful. Steeped in church traditions from a young age, he could make a sermon out of any situation, as in “The Price” from 1964, a catalog of the wages of a bad romance. (“You cost me my mother/The love of my father/Sister/My brother too.”)
Although he never attained the wide popularity of Otis Redding or James Brown, Mr. Burke had a broad influence on R&B and rock, and he was a favorite of musicians and connoisseurs. Mick Jagger sang several of his songs on early Rolling Stones albums, and Jerry Wexler, the Atlantic Records producer who recorded Mr. Burke at his peak, once affirmed a judgment of him as the best soul singer of all time.
In a genre known for outsize personalities and flamboyant showmanship, Mr. Burke stood out for his sheer boldness and eccentricity. A radio D.J. crowned him the King of Rock and Soul in 1964, and Mr. Burke took the coronation to heart. For the rest of his career, he often performed in full royal habit — crown, scepter and robe — and sat on a golden throne onstage. Wide-shaped in his youth, he grew into Henry VIII-like corpulence, and in his later years had to be wheeled to his throne.
An ordained minister, licensed mortician, resourceful entrepreneur and champion raconteur, Mr. Burke inspired almost as much amazement with his offstage persona as he did with his music. A biography on his Web site says that he had 21 children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. “I got lost on one of the Bible verses that said, ‘Be fruitful and multiply,’ ” he once said. “I didn’t read no further.”
Born on March 21, 1940, in Philadelphia, Mr. Burke was precocious in the pulpit and at the microphone. His mother and grandmother were preachers (his father plucked chicken at a kosher market) and, according to Peter Guralnick’s 1986 book, “Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom,” Mr. Burke delivered his first sermon at age 7 and by 9 was “widely known as the Wonder Boy Preacher.”
Most of his first records, beginning in 1955 for Apollo, an independent label in New York, had clear gospel influences. But before long his songs began to incorporate secular thoughts.
“I love beautiful women, and I’m not going to tell anyone different,” Mr. Burke said in a 2002 interview. “Sam Cooke was packing out churches at the same time as me, but when he was singing sacred songs, the young girls were thinking, ‘Lord, Jesus, if I could just get with that Sam Cooke. Brother Sam, come over and pray for me one time!’ All of that was in the room, it’s what life is about.”
Beginning in 1961 with “Just Out of Reach (of My Two Open Arms),” a country song he sang with Elvis Presley-like inflections, Mr. Burke had a string of R&B hits for Atlantic, though he never broke through to mainstream audiences, with Atlantic or any of the labels he recorded for into the 1970s; his highest chart position on the Billboard pop singles chart was No. 22.
His career revival began in the 1980s, helped by Hollywood: “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” was featured in “The Blues Brothers” in 1980, and in 1987 “Cry to Me” had a prominent role in “Dirty Dancing.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, and in 2002 he released “Don’t Give Up on Me” (Fat Possum/Anti-), with songs by Brian Wilson, Tom Waits, Bob Dylan and others written for Mr. Burke.
He never stopped touring or making records. His most recent album, “Nothing’s Impossible” — his first and last collaboration with the celebrated producer Willie Mitchell, who died in January — was released on the E1 label in April. On Sunday he had flown to Amsterdam to perform a sold-out concert there with a Dutch band, De Dijk.
“He was on his way to spread his message of love,” his Web site announced, “as he loved to do.”
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