Solomon Burke (March 21, 1940 – October 10, 2010) was an American Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter. During the half-century that he performed, he drew from his roots: gospel, soul, and blues, as well as developing his own style in a time when R&B, and rock were still in their infancy. Burke was considered a pioneer and was a member of the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Solomon Burke was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Some sources claim that he was born in 1936, others say 1938, but in a 2002 interview with Philadelphia Weekly Burke stated that he was born in 1940. He began his adult life as a preacher in Philadelphia, and soon moved on to hosting a gospel radio show. He met fellow preacher Martin Luther King, Jr. several times.
In the 1960s, he signed with Atlantic Records and began moving towards more secular music. His first hit was "Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)", a cover of a country song. Though well-received by both peers and critics, and attaining a few moderate pop and several major R&B hits, Burke never could quite break through into the mainstream as did Sam Cooke or Otis Redding, who covered Burke's "Down in the Valley" for 1965's Otis Blue. His best known song is "Cry to Me",which was a hit twice first in the 60's and again in the 1980s- used in the dance and seduction scene in the film Dirty Dancing. It hit again off of that popular film's soundtrack.
In 1964 he wrote and recorded "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love", Burke's most prominent bid for an enduring soul standard. Almost immediately covered by The Rolling Stones the same year, other well-known versions include one by Wilson Pickett and another, a decade and a half later, in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.
Burke enjoyed a special relationship with the Catholic Church throughout his life and in 2000, he and his family were invited to perform at the Jubilee of the Family at the Vatican. Since then, he has been invited back to the Vatican by both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for Vatican's Christmas celebration.
Burke was also an undertaker and had a mortuary business in Los Angeles. He was trained as a mortician early in his life and had worked in his uncle's funeral parlor.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
His career was to some degree revived in 2002, with the release of Don't Give Up On Me on Fat Possum Records and produced by Joe Henry,[ where he sang songs written specifically for the album by various top-rank artists, including Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello and Tom Waits. Don't Give Up On Me won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album at the 45th Grammy Awards in 2003.
In 1987, he appeared in the movie The Big Easy as Daddy Mention and he is featured in the 2004 movie Lightning in a Bottle, singing "Turn on Your Love Light" and "Down in the Valley". Also in 2004, Solomon appeared on Junkie XL's album, Radio JXL: A Broadcast From the Computer Hell Cabin, performing "Catch Up To My Step". Also in 2004 he was featured on the song "I Pray On Christmas" from the Blind Boys Of Alabama album Go Tell It On The Mountain, which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Gospel Album. In 2004, Burke also recorded a duet with Italian soul singer Zucchero. The two artists performed Zucchero's hit "Diavolo in me" (Devil in Me), on the duets album Zu & Co. Burke was also a guest at a London show in May 2004 in which Zucchero presented the album. This performance is included on Zucchero's DVD Zu & Co. - Live at the Royal Albert Hall.
He was mentioned throughout the 1995 Nick Hornby novel High Fidelity. A gospel-flavored cover of the Van Morrison song, "Fast Train" done by Burke was selected for the 2004 Season Three closing montage in the highly acclaimed HBO series, The Wire.
In 2005, he appeared as a special guest with Jools Holland on his autumn tour of the United Kingdom, including two sell-out shows at London's Royal Albert Hall.
In September 2006, Burke returned to his country roots with the release of a 14-track country album titled Nashville, produced by Buddy Miller. It included guest vocals from Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Patty Griffin, Gillian Welch and Patty Loveless. The sessions produced the first recording Griffin's "Up to the Mountain (MLK Song)", which she brought to Burke because of his association with King and that era. The album peaked at #55 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart.
Solomon was joined by a host of top country stars and backed by Buddy Miller and his Band at the Belcourt Theatre in Nashville, Tennessee on September 25, 2006 for a one-off concert to celebrate the release of Nashville. The concert was filmed by HDNet and was released on DVD in Europe on September 17, 2007.
On September 28, 2006, Burke was among the several rock, soul, and country legends that sang along with Jerry Lee Lewis at the live concert "Last Man Standing" at the Sony Music Studio in New York. The two duets were "Who Will the Next Fool Be" and "Today I Started Lovin' You Again".
In February 2007, Burke performed on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and later on Late Night with Conan O'Brien. The Tonight Show performance was accompanied by The Tonight Show Band members and bandleader Kevin Eubanks on lead guitar. On Late Night he performed with Buddy Miller "That's How I Got To Memphis", from Burke's album Nashville.
Burke was the father of 21 children (14 daughters and 7 sons), 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. On July 15, 2008, Burke confirmed to his audience at the Juan Les Pins Jazz Festival in France that he would soon have 90 grandchildren. Several of his children and grandchildren have had successful careers in various facets of the music industry, though none are as renowned as their patriarch. One of his grandsons, Novel, will release his first studio album in October 2008. His daughter, Candy Burke, was a backing singer for the first time at a Burke performance in the July 2008 Juan Les Pins concert where she performed a rendition of "I Will Survive" to rapturous applause from the crowd.
As one of the early artists at Atlantic Records, in 2007 Burke honored Ahmet Ertegün, the co-founder of Atlantic Records and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Burke co-hosted the March 2007 celebration of Ertegun's life's work at Lincoln Center in New York, participated in the American Master's documentary Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built, and in December 2007, Burke performed at the private after-party after the Ahmet Ertegün Tribute Concert at The O2 in Greenwich, London, along with Ben E. King, Percy Sledge and Sam Moore.
In January 2008, Solomon went back to the recording studio to record with the producer/drummer Steve Jordan. The album titled Like a Fire has songs written specifically for Burke by Ben Harper, Eric Clapton, Jesse Harris, Keb' Mo', Meegan Voss and Steve Jordan and was released on June 10, 2008. This album was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album of 2008.
Burke joined Widespread Panic on stage for None of Us Are Free at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles on June 20, 2008.
He performed at the Bonnaroo Music Festival on June 15, 2008, and the Telluride Bluegrass Festival on June 22, 2008, and for the first time in his career at England's Glastonbury Festival on June 29, 2008. This was part of his European 2008 Summer Tour, and included concerts in Portugal, England, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Austria, France, Switzerland, Norway, Slovakia and Sweden.
In January 2009, Burke joined legendary record producer Willie Mitchell at Mitchell's Royal Studio in Memphis to work together on a new recording - an album titled "Nothing's Impossible" which was released on April 6, 2010. It was the first time Burke and Mitchell had worked together in their careers. Burke also put on his record label hat when his label, The One Entertainment Systems signed Clarence Fountain and Sam Butler and their most recent project: Stepping Up And Stepping Out. It is Clarence Fountain's first project since stepping away from The Blind Boys of Alabama.
On July 24, 2009, Burke played at the Open-air stage in Charlton Park for the WOMAD Music Festival, held in Wiltshire, England.
The King of Rock 'N' Soul celebrated his 70th birthday in March 2010 and toured Japan for the first time in May 2010, before his "Year of the Dream Love Tour" across Europe in July and August 2010, including dates in Spain, Italy, England, Germany, Norway, Belgium, Serbia, Bulgaria and Switzerland.
In October 2010 his final album 'Hold On Tight' is due to be released. It contains 13 songs written by Dutch rockband De Dijk translated to English to be performed by Burke.
On October 10, 2010 he was reported to have died at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands, on or immediately after a flight from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, where he had been due to perform with De Dijk on October 12. The cause of death was not immediately clear. Apparently, after having had a heart attack on the plane, he could not be resuscitated.