Legendary singer-songwriter Solomon Burke, a big man with a big voice whose music spanned decades, crossed blues, gospel and soul and even crossed over to the big screen, died suddenly Sunday, Oct. 11, in an Amsterdam airport at the age of 70.
Burke, whose music inspired the likes of James Brown and Marvin Gaye and was hailed by acts like the Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, died on a plane at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, according the airport’s police department.
He had arrived in Amsterdam from Los Angeles and had been scheduled to perform at a sold-out concert on Tuesday.
Last modified on Friday, 05 November 2010 14:58
Burke was a Grammy-winner and a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee who played for paupers and literally for a Pope – the late Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.
“This is a time of great sorrow for out entire family. We truly appreciate all the support and well wishes from his friends and fans,” a statement on Burke’s Web site said. “Although our hearts and lives will never be the same, his love, life and music will continue to live within us forever."
Famous Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler called Burke “the best soul singer of all time.”
While Burke’s talents were widely known within the African-American community, he became known to mainstream audiences through the soundtracks of two of the most popular movies in history. The late John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd covered Burke’s 1964 hit “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” in their 1980 hit, “Blues Brothers."
The same tune was also covered by Wilson Pickett and the Rolling Stones. And Burke’s sensual “Cry to Me” played in the background as a bare-chested Patrick Swayze danced with Jennifer Grey in “Dirty Dancing” in 1987.
Burke, who went by the nickname King Solomon and performed sitting on a throne in his later years, was born March 21, 1940. His Web site says he was literally born into music – in an upstairs room of a Philadelphia church “to the sounds of horns and bass drums.”
Burke began his adult working career as a preacher and later as the host of a gospel radio show in Philadelphia. Church music influenced Burke, as did the raucous rock and roll sounds of Little Richard.
He sang gospel but shifted to secular music after he signed with Atlantic Records in the 1960s. He scored his first hit with “Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arm),” a remake of a popular country song.
Burke went on to produce a string of hits for Atlantic over a decade, but he never achieved the status or fame that soul singers Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding achieved at that time. He may not have been fully appreciated by the public at large, but it influenced a school of performers, from Gaye to the godfather of soul to Isaac Hayes and Barry White.
“I think there was a little bit of frustration there, but I don’t think it ruled him at all,” Andy Kaulkin, president of Anti-Records, told AP.
Burke might not have been a household name across the United State, but he enjoyed an almost superstar status within the Catholic church, performing at the Vatican’s Jubilee of the Family in 2001 and personally performing for Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
“From day one, literally, God and gospel were the driving forces behind the man and his music,” Burke’s Web site said.
Though he never stopped performing or touring, hits were few and far between for Burke, but he was not forgotten by his peers. He was voted into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001. A year later, his career was rejuvenated and public interest in him rekindled when he earned a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues album for his “Don’t Give Up on Me” album.
Burke earned a reputation for being a prolific songwriter and performer. He was also prolific in another area: He is survived by his 21 children, 90 grandchildren, and 19 great grandchildren.
“Loving people,” Burke told a London audience recently, “is what I do.”