Solomon Burke died aged Seventy on 10th October 2010 at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport in Netherlands while on a plane from Washington Dulles Airport that had just landed . He had been due to perform with De Dijk in Amsterdam two days later. The cause of death was not immediately clear; according to his family, Solomon died of natural causes. The grave of Solomon Burke is at Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills.
Solomon Burke was born James Solomon McDonald on March 21st 1940 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA in the upper floor of his grandmother Eleanor Moore's home. Solomon was the child of Josephine Moore and an absentee father. His mother Josephine was a nurse, schoolteacher, concert performer and pastor.Solomon Burke was consecrated a bishop at birth by his grandmother in the Solomon's Temple, a congregation of the United House of Prayer for All People, which she founded at her home in Black Bottom, West Philadelphia. When Solomon was nine, his mother married rabbi and butcher Vincent Burke and had his name changed to Solomon Vincent McDonald Burke. Solomon's friends and family called him "Sol". Solomon Burke was the godson of Daddy Grace.
Solomon credited his grandmother as his main spiritual and musical influence. He learned how to sing all forms of music from his grandmother's coaching him to listen to music on the radio. Solomon Burke began preaching at the age of seven at the Solomon's Temple. ] He was described in his young preaching years as a "frantic sermonizer" and "spellbinding in his delivery"; and was soon nicknamed the "Boy Wonder Preacher" for his charismatic preaching in the pulpit. Solomon Burke became a pastor of the congregation at age twelve, appeared on the radio station WDAS, and later hosted a gospel show on WHAT-AM, mixing songs and sermons in broadcasts from Solomon's Temple. On weekends he travelled with a truck and tent, to Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas to carry on the spiritual crusade of his church.
Solomon Burke had six younger siblings – a sister, and five brothers. From an early age Solomon Burke worked to supplement his family's income. He recalled: "I used to deliver grocery orders in a little wagon I made out of fish boxes. When I was seven, I sold newspapers out of my own newsstand on the corner of 40th and Lancaster. I had the first 99-cent car wash, which was located at 40th and Wallace outside Al's Barber Shop. We had it there because he was the only one who would let us use his water. We could wash your car in 20 minutes. I had four or five guys, gave 'em each a nickel for each car. Another briefly held early job was as a hot dog seller at Eddie's Meat Market, where his friend Ernest Evans, later known as Chubby Checker, also worked. Solomon Burke eventually graduated from John Bartram High School. He first became a father at fourteen years old.
During high school, Solomon Burke formed and fronted the quartet, the Gospel Cavaliers. He received his first guitar from his grandmother, later writing his first song, "Christmas Presents". The Cavaliers began performing in churches. It was around this time that Solomon Burke met Kae "Loudmouth" Williams, a famed Philadelphia deejay with help from Williams' wife, Viola, who saw Solomon and the Cavaliers perform at church. Before entering a gospel talent contest in which a record deal was for first prize, the group split up. Solomon Burke entered the contest, held at Cornerstone Baptist Church, as a solo artist and won the contest against eleven other competitors. Soon, several labels including Apollo, Vee-Jay Records and Peacock Records pursued the fifteen-year-old. Before pursuing the deal, Solomon Burke signed Kae Williams as his manager. Williams then took him to Apollo Records introducing him to Bess Berman, who signed him to the label. The move was made after Williams added four years to Solomon's age, which led to confusion from the press about his age.
Solomon Burke signed with Apollo Records in late 1955, following the departure of gospel singer and the label's primary star Mahalia Jackson to Columbia. After he signed with Apollo, the label's founder Bess Berman and its handlers were reportedly trying to make Solomon Burke "the next Harry Belafonte".
Solomon Burke recorded nine singles for the label during his two-year tenure, releasing his first single, "Christmas Presents", on Christmas Eve of 1955. He recorded with musicians including King Curtis and Lester Young. His other Apollo recordings during this early period included "I'm in Love", "I'm All Alone" and "No Man Walks Alone", later collected as his first long-player, 'Solomon Burke'. These early records did not sell well, although the self-titled album was rereleased in 1964 after Solomon Burke had experienced some chart success.
Solomon Burke was abruptly dropped from Apollo following a violent argument with manager Kae Williams over performance royalties; Solomon claimed Williams had him "blackballed" from the industry following this move. After releasing a few singles for other labels, Solomon Burke briefly returned to Apollo under the pseudonym "Little Vincent", releasing one song in 1961 and the label issued a self-titled album in 1962.
Following his initial Apollo departure, Solomon Burke struggled to record or get club dates and an argument with his mother left him homeless. He later moved into a home owned by Ohella Thompson, after Thompson accidentally hit him with her car outside a club. During this time, Solomon Burke studied the Islamic faith and married, but the marriage was annulled. Soon afterwards, he married Delores Clark, Thompson's niece, and soon had seven children. As his family grew, Solomon Burke trained for a while to be a mortician at Eckels College of Mortuary Science, graduating from mortuary science, and finding work at a funeral home.Solomon Burke later had his own mortuary business in Los Angeles.
Solomon Burke was briefly signed to Herb Abramson's Triumph Records. However, he could not record for the label because his contract with Apollo had not yet been dissolved. In 1959, Philadelphia businessman Marvin Leonard "Babe" Chivian (1925-1972), a "body-and-fender man" and real estate speculator, offered Solomon Burke a red Lincoln Continental convertible if he would agree to a management contract with him. Chivian arranged for Solomon to be signed to Singular Records, a Philadelphia-based label that was owned by WPEN disc jockey Edwin L. "Larry" Brown and vocal coach Arthur "Artie" Singer, who had a distribution deal with Chess Records.Solomon Burke released just two singles for Singular, "Doodle Dee Doo" and "This Little Ring," written by Delores Burke and Marvin Chivian"; neither song charted.
In November 1960, Solomon signed with Atlantic Records. According to Solomon Burke, he signed with the label within ten minutes of entering Jerry Wexler's office, reportedly signing a 'handshake deal' with Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun. At the time of Solomon Burke's signing, two of Atlantic Records' major stars, Bobby Darin and Ray Charles, had left the label for better deals with Capitol and ABC respectively. According to Alex Halberstadt, "Salvation arrived in the person of Solomon Burke, a soul singer of overwhelming charisma and remarkable stylistic range. Wexler and Solomon Burke created a string of hits that carried the label financially and represented the first fully realized examples of the classic soul sound. Solomon Burke reportedly helped keep Atlantic Records solvent from 1961 to 1965 with his steady run of hit records.
Solomon Burke recorded thirty-two singles with Atlantic Records, most of which hit both the pop and R&B charts. Solomon's second single for the label was the country single, "Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)", which became his first charted single, reaching number 24 on the USA's Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at number 7 on the R&B charts. The song also became Solomon Burke's first million-seller. His next hit came with "Cry to Me", which reached number 5 on the R&B chart in 1962 and was described as one of the first songs to mix country, R&B and gospel. After the release of "Cry to Me", Solomon Burke was among one of the first artists to be referred to as a "soul artist". Other hits included Wilson Pickett's "If You Need Me"; "You're Good for Me"; his co-written classic, "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love"; his only number-one single, "Got to Get You Off My Mind"; and "Tonight's the Night" . Solomon Burke became the first R&B artist to cover a Bob Dylan song with his cover of "Maggie's Farm", which became the b-side of "Tonight's the Night". In 1965 Atlantic released his fifth album, 'The Best of Solomon Burke', which peaked at number 22 on the USA charts.
Almost immediately after signing to Atlantic, Wexler and Solomon Burke clashed over his branding and the songs that he would record. According to Solomon, "Their idea was, we have another young kid to sing gospel, and we’re going to put him in the blues bag. As Solomon had struggled from an early age with "his attraction to secular music on the one hand and his allegiance to the church on the other, when he was signed to Atlantic Records he "refused to be classified as a rhythm-and-blues singer" due to a perceived "stigma of profanity" by the church, and R&B's reputation as "the devil's music." Solomon Burke indicated in 2005: "I told them about my spiritual background, and what I felt was necessary, and that I was concerned about being labeled rhythm & blues. What kind of songs would they be giving me to sing? Because of my age, and my position in the church, I was concerned about saying things that were not proper, or that sent the wrong message. That angered Jerry Wexler a little bit. He said, ‘We’re the greatest blues label in the world! You should be honored to be on this label, and we’ll do everything we can – but you have to work with us.’" To mollify Solomon Burke, it was decided to market him as a singer of "soul music" after he had consulted his church brethren and won approval for the term. When a Philadelphia DJ said to Solomon Burke, "You're singing from your soul and you don't want to be an R&B singer, so what kind of singer are you going to be?", Solomon shot back: "I want to be a soul singer." Solomon Burke's sound, which was especially popular in the South, was described there as "river deep country fried buttercream soul." Solomon Burke is credited with coining the term "soul music," which he confirmed in a 1996 interview.
Despite his initial reluctance, shared with several former gospel singers including Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke was "molded into a more secular direction when he signed with Atlantic in the '60s, and became one of "the "backsliders," artists who "preferred a secular acclaim to the gospel obscurity". He decided eventually that "secular music was not the antithesis of the church but, rather, a new avenue, a new dimension to spread the gospel. Despite this, leaving gospel for secular music, as well as integrating secular music into gospel performances, was controversial. Noted blues scholar Paul Oliver maintains that when Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke turned from gospel singing to the blues,unlike others who had done so previously, they took the gospel technique with them. Even the words often secularized gospel songs , and this was coupled with a "screaming delivery, the exploitation of emotional involvement and the frenetic displays of dancing singers. For Solomon Burke, gospel influences were pervasive. Gospelly chord progressions, organ accompaniment and a style of singing which can only be described as "preaching" have now spread widely into much black popular music. Music critic Mark Deming described Burke as having: "one of the finest voices in popular music, that possessed a churchly authority that was the ideal match for his material which balanced the pleasures of the flesh with the price of the transgression."
Solomon "Burke sounded like a Baptist preacher in a country church, and for Wexler he was the first and possibly the greatest of all '60s soul men. Jerry Wexler, who considered Solomon Burke to be "the greatest male soul singer of all time", pronounced him a "vocalist of rare prowess and remarkable range". His voice is an instrument of exquisite sensitivity. Wexler also described the young Burke's vocal style as "churchy without being coarse." "I rate him at the very top. Since all singing is a trade-off between music and drama, he's the master at both. His theatricality. He's a great actor." Despite his admiration for Solomon Burke, Wexler also described him as "a piece of work: wily, highly intelligent, a salesman of epic proportions, sly, sure-footed, a never-say-die entrepreneur", while also branding him "a card-carrying fabulist.
After a string of a dozen hit records, by November 1963 Solomon Burke had agreed to be crowned the "King of Rock 'n' Soul" in a ceremony at the Royal Theatre in Baltimore by local deejay Fred Robinson, known professionally as "Rockin' Robin", who also gave him a cape and crown that he always wore on stage.Solomon Burke accepted the appellation the "King of Rock 'N' Soul", indicating "without soul, there'd be no rock and without rock, there'd be no soul." ] The ceremony was repeated each night during the week Solomon Burke performed in Baltimore.
As he increased in weight, Solomon Burke’s sheer bulk meant that he could never be a dancer like James Brown, but like Brown, his act was full of showmanship. Consequently, over the years Solomon Burke "evolved a fervently demonstrative stage act", that were often compared with religious revival meetings. Solomon Burke and black performers like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, "would adopt the 'house-wrecking' tactics of black preachers, and their shows functioned in much the same way as black religious events in that performer and audience became immersed in the music, arriving together at an ecstatic state that allowed them to feel a deep intensity of experience. According to Weldon McDougal, Solomon Burke "turned theatres like the Apollo and the Uptown into churches, he had folk running down the aisles to be saved by his music." Cliff White described a show in the UK where "with head thrown back and one hand cupped to his mouth like an Alpine yodeller he cried out with such overwhelming passion that he left the spellbound audience wrung out and exhausted like so many limp rags."
After 1965, the biggest year of his career, Solomon Burke settled as "at best a middle-of-the-pack chart performer". Due to failing chart numbers and the rise of several performers including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, Solomon Burke was described by David Cantwell in this period as "a King without a kingdom". Solomon Burke's position in Atlantic dropped by 1968 as other Atlantic artists replaced him as the label's primary artists. Solomon tried to regain his early Atlantic success by recording at Memphis, working on the album 'I Wish I Knew at Chips Moman's' at American Sound Studio. The album included the songs "Get Out My Life Woman" and a cover of "I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free", his first recording that provided social commentary. It was later dedicated to Martin Luther King, Jr., and Atlantic gave up 5% of royalties on the single to King's family. It only reached number 32 R&B and #68 pop. Solomon Burke later met his next manager Tamiko Jones at the Memphis studio. Solomon Burke and Jones recorded several duets on Jones' album, 'I'll Be Anything for You'. Following a failed collaboration with other soul artists as the Soul Clan, Solomon Burke decided to leave the label. His reasons for leaving Atlantic were for not "being treated properly" and that Atlantic "just wasn't home anymore, wasn't family".
After leaving Atlantic, Solomon Burke signed with Bell Records where he released five singles in the next eighteen months. In 1969 he had a small hit with his second release for Bell, a reworking of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Proud Mary" b/w "What Am I Living For" . This was co-produced by Tamiko Jones, who was being rehabilitated after a bout of polio, and was at the time Solomon Burke's manager.Solomon Burke recorded a cover of "Proud Mary" prior to Ike & Tina Turner's version, and according to Solomon was the one who convinced the duo to record it. The song became a brief hit reaching number 15 R&B and number 45 pop. All but four of the tracks Solomon Burke recorded during an 18-month stay with Bell Records were packaged on the Proud Mary LP. After this album and the two following singles - his own "Generation of Revelations", and the Mac Davis song "In the Ghetto", which had previously been a hit for Elvis Presley - failed to chart, his contract was not renewed.
Through the efforts of his manager, Buddy Glee, by November 1970 Solomon Burke signed with Mike Curb's MGM label, and formed MBM Productions, his own production company. Solomon Burke's record debut for MGM, "Lookin' Out My Back Door", another Creedence Clearwater Revival song, had disappointing sales. His first MGM album, Electronic Magnetism, also failed to chart. In 1972 Solomon Burke had a number 13 R&B hit for MGM with "Love Street and Fool's Road" . In 1972, he recorded the soundtrack to two films, Cool Breeze and Hammer. He left MGM for ABC-Dunhill Records in 1974, recording the album, 'I Have a Dream', which produced the number 14 R&B hit, "Midnight and You". By 1975 Solomon Burke was signed to Chess Records. He recorded two albums for Chess: 'Music to Make Love By' and 'Back to My Roots', and had a top 20 R&B hit in 1975 with "You And Your Baby Blues". However, his follow-up single "Let Me Wrap My Arms Around You" only reached number 72 on the R&B chart. In 1978 Solomon Burke released an album Please Don't Say Goodbye To Me, which was produced by Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams, though Amherst Records. On September 23, 1978, Solomon Burke charted for the 31st and last time when "Please Don't Say Goodbye to Me" reached number 91 on the R&B chart. He released the album 'Sidewalks', 'Fences and Walls' on Infinity Records in 1979.
Between 1979 and 1984, Solomon Burke recorded four gospel albums for Savoy Records, starting with the album, 'Lord I Need a Miracle Right Now'. He was nominated for his first Grammy in the Best Male Gospel Soul category for his rendition of "Precious Lord, Take My Hand", but complained later that he did not receive royalties from his Savoy work. He then recorded for smaller labels such as Rounder, MCI/Isis, Bizarre/Straight, Black Top, Point Blank and GTR Records. Solomon Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on March 19, 2001 in New York City by Mary J. Blige, after eight previous nominations since 1986.
In 2002, Solomon Burke signed with Fat Possum Records and released the album, 'Don't Give Up on Me'. The album became critically acclaimed and later resulted in Solomon Burke's first Grammy Award win. Solomon Burke later signed with 'Shout! Factory' to release the album, 'Make Do With What You Got', which became another critically acclaimed success. In 2006, Solomon Burke returned to his country roots with the album, 'Nashville'. In 2008, he received another Grammy nomination for the album, 'Like a Fire'. That same year, Rolling Stone magazine ranked Solomon Burke as number 89 on its list of the "100 Greatest Singers of All Time". In 2010, Solomon Burke came out with the Willie Mitchell-produced 'Nothing's Impossible' for E1 Entertainment. Later in 2010, he released his final album, 'Hold on Tight', a collaboration album with De Dijk, a Dutch band.
From an early age Solomon Burke was "always an enterprising personality." In addition to his recording career, Solomon Burke ran funeral homes, owned two drugstores and a popcorn business in Philadelphia, and later had the first Mountain Dew franchise in Philadelphia.
Solomon Burke's entrepreneurial activities included cooking and selling barbecued chicken sandwiches backstage, as well as sandwiches, soft drinks, and fried chickens at increasingly inflated prices to other performers who were refused service at restaurants on the Chitlin' circuit in the "Jim Crow" South. Trombonist Fred Wesley was one who was critical of Solomon Burke's business practices. Solomon Burke demanded and operated the concessions at the Apollo Theater when he performed there in 1966. This was very profitable for him but so enraged the owner Frank Schiffman that he was banned from performing at the Apollo for life. After playing at the reopening of The Cavern Club in Liverpool in July 1966, Solomon Burke said: “The Cavern was a great place to play. The groove was there, the people were there, and it was wonderful. I remember them selling hot Pepsis. What a mistake – you gotta put ice in those things. Think of how many more they could have sold with ice in them."
Solomon Burke owned funeral parlors in California, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, and two of his children have turned the mortuary business into a franchise. Additionally,Solomon Burke owned and operated a limousine service. Solomon Burke continued to operate companies that supplied theaters and stadiums with his own brand of fast food—Soul Dogs and Soul Corn until at least 2004.
From the early 1970s, after having moved to Los Angeles, Solomon Burke concentrated on his episcopal duties, preaching from a crimson throne on the third Sunday of the month at the Prayer Assembly Church of God in Christ, his church at 226 North Market St., Inglewood, California. Within three decades his church grew to have about 170 missions and 40,000 members. By 2000, Solomon Burke's Solomon’s Temple: The House of God for All People had over three hundred ordained ministers whose job is to “feed the hungry, educate the uneducated and be God’s workers in the vineyard”, and 40,000 parishioners in close to two hundred churches across the USA, Canada, and Jamaica. At the time of his death, there were about 180 churches that were established under the charter of his denomination, with Solomon Burke indicating: "We’re non-sectarian, non-denominational. Ours is an open door." While pursuing other interests, Solomon Burke was also deeply involved in community work, assisting The Crippled Children's Foundation for blind and underprivileged children, while personally being responsible for more than 120 adopted children.
Solomon Burke was also a mentor to up-coming Soul and Blues musicians, including a young Reggie Sears.
Solomon Burke was married four times. In total he fathered at least 14 children (9 daughters and 5 sons), including at least two fathered outside any of his marriages, including Melvia Burke and Elijah Mohammed Burke, Vickey Burke. He had 7 step children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren at the time of his death.
Solomon Burke was married to Doris P. Williams for two months; the marriage was annulled by August 1958, though it resulted in the birth of one child, Valerie Doris Gresham.
Solomon Burke's second wife was Delores Clark Burke, with whom he had 7 children.
His third wife was Bernadine Burke. In 2012 Court documents proved that Solomon Burke had never divorced Arch Bishop Bernadine Turner Burke in 1970 before marring Frances Secto.
Solomon Burke's fourth wife was Frances Secto Burke McDonald, She was living with him and live in lover/manager and caregiver Jane Margolis Vickers when Solomon Burke died.
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song: 'Let Me Wrap My Arms Around You' by Solomon Burke