Solomon Burke, the soul legend behind Atlantic R&B classics including “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” died early this morning after arriving at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport. He was 70.
Known as “The King of Rock and Soul,” Burke has been covered by artists including Otis Redding, Bruce Springsteen, and the Rolling Stones. In the last decade, Burke enjoyed resurgence as one of the last living soul legends. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and won his first Grammy in 2003.
Photos: Remembering Solomon Burke
Burke left behind 21 children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, many of whom toured with him and pursued music careers of their own. He spent his life preaching as spiritual leader for Los Angeles’ nonsectarian Church of God for All People. “From day one, literally God and gospel were the driving forces behind the man and his music,” his website says.
Burke was born March 21, 1940 in West Philadelphia, and was raised by his mother and grandmother, who led a nonsectarian church. He preached his first sermon at age seven and was named a bishop by 21. He began singing in church at fourteen, the same year he earned his first hit with “Christmas Presents From Heaven” on Apollo Records.
After Burke’s teenage career in music passed, he worked as a mortician. He attempted an entertainment career again in 1961, and was signed to Atlantic Records by Ahmet Ertegun. His shows were raucous R&B revues; he sang in a pink robe and gold crown. Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler called him “the best soul singer of all time.”
Burke was always an enterprising personality. He sold “Solomon’s Magic Popcorn” outside gigs in the mid Sixties. On tours in the segregated south, he brought along a giant chest of sandwiches on the his bus to sell to hungry black performers.
“He didn’t give you that much,” said Sam Moore, of the soul duo Sam & Dave. “He gave me one pork chop, one scoop of macaroni and cheese, and one spoonful of gravy. I said, ‘Is that it?’ And he’d say, ‘That’s it, brother. I’m doing you a favor, so take it or leave it.’ There will never be another Solomon Burke.”
Burke made his last record for Atlantic in 1968, but his hits had staying power. John Belushi and Dan Akroyd performed “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” in The Blues Brothers in 1980. Patrick Swayze sang “Cry to Me” to Jennifer Grey in “Dirty Dancing” in 1987.
Burke won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album, for Don’t Give Up on Me, where he covered Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson and Van Morrison. He continued his resurgence with new classics Make Do With What You Got in 2005 and Nashville in 2006. In recent years, he performed on a throne with a massive band. His final album, Hold On Tight, is due to be released later this month.
Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport police spokesman Robert van Kapel told the New York Times that Burke died on a plane at the airport. He arrived on a flight from Los Angeles and had been scheduled to perform a sellout show on Tuesday.
Burke remained active at 70, still leading his nonsectarian House of Prayer for All People and trying to upstart the Sons and Daughters of Solomon Burke University of Higher Education in South Central Los Angeles. He told RS, “You get on the journey that says you’re going to be 70 this year. This is the time to do the things you promised to do. Do the things you’re supposed to do in the time that the Lord has allowed you to continue to be here. And, gosh, when I look back on my life, as Nat ‘King Cole sings, I see all my friends who already made another journey, so it’s time to do all the things I can. I’m so blessed with all my family. What a beautiful moment to make this decade a foundation to do the best things that I can.”
Rolling Stone writer Charles M. Young visited Burke at home in Los Angeles for one of his last in-depth interviews. Read the original piece from Rolling Stone here.