Soul performer was on his way to Dutch concert
Solomon Burke, the hit-making ’60s soul vocalist who enjoyed a Grammy-winning career renaissance in the new millennium, died Oct. 10 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. He was 70.
A post on Burke’s official website said the singer died of natural causes. He had flown to the Netherlands for a concert date with the band De Dijk.
The imposing and colorful “King Solomon” — who often performed on a custom-built throne with a crown atop his head — was a mercury-voiced soul man whose peers included such contemporaries as James Brown, Sam Cooke, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding.
Burke preached and sang in the family church, the House of God for All People, from an early age in his native Philadelphia. A 1954 appearance on a Philadelphia gospel TV show led to a contract with the New York R&B label Apollo Records.
Dissatisfied with his treatment at Apollo, Burke left the music business in the late ’50s to enter mortuary college. (Ever the entrepreneur, he ran a chain of funeral homes later in life.) After cutting a few unsuccessful sides for Philly indie Singular Records, he was signed to Atlantic, the principal R&B imprint of the day.
Beginning with the countrified “Just out of Reach (of My Two Open Arms),” No. 7 in 1961, Burke racked up 20 R&B hits for Atlantic through 1968. They included “Cry to Me” (No. 5, 1962), later featured in the film “Dirty Dancing,” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” (No. 1, 1964), covered note-for-note by the Rolling Stones and used in the John Belushi-Dan Aykroyd vehicle “The Blues Brothers.”
He just missed the top in 1963 with his cover of Pickett’s “If You Need Me,” which reached No. 2 and effectively killed his future label mate’s original version.
Near the end of his tenure at Atlantic, he joined Arthur Conley, Don Covay, Ben E. King and Joe Tex in the all-star unit the Soul Clan.
Through the ’70s, Burke charted singles intermittently for Bell, MGM, ABC and Chess. In the later stages of his career, his profile was raised by albums aimed at white R&B fans. In 1984, Rounder Records’ “Soul Alive!” — drawn from a pair of sets at a Washington, D.C., club — garnered rave reviews.
In 2002, Mississippi blues label Fat Possum Records and L.A. indie Anti-Records teamed to pair Burke with producer Joe Henry for the album “Don’t Give up on Me.” The set, which featured new original songs by Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Tom Waits and Van Morrison, won a Grammy Award for contemporary blues album. His later recordings included a set of country material, “Nashville” (2006), and “Nothing’s Impossible,” issued earlier this year by E1 Entertainment.
He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
He toured internationally until the end of his life, and — until flagging health limited his mobility on stage — he climaxed his sets by handing red roses to female audience members.
Survivors include 21 children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.