Solomon Burke was a legendary singer who never received the commercial success that his immense talent warranted. But he is generally recognized within the music industry as one of the most important soul singers ever.
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1940, Burke 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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 was due to be released. It contained 13 songs written by Dutch rockband De Dijk translated to English to be performed by Burke. Sadly, Burke died on October 10th of that year while visiting the Netherlands.
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