Soul singer Solomon Burke dies aged 70

US soul singer Solomon Burke once said: “As long as I have breath to do it, I’ll sing, with God’s help”.

Sadly, the warm bass voice of this larger-than-life ‘King of Rock and Soul’ is now silent. He died early on Sunday October 10, 2010 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport after arriving on a flight from Los Angeles. He was 70.

Solomon Burke was born to the sound of music in an upstairs room of a church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on March 21 1940. He began his adult career as a preacher and hosted a gospel radio show. But he also played guitar and sang, and his talent and church-trained voice were soon spotted.

In 1960, he signed with Atlantic Records – home to Ray Charles. Like Charles, his songs blended soul, gospel, country and R&B. His first hit record, in 1961, was a cover version of the country song ‘Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms)’. This was followed in 1962 with ‘Cry To Me’ which was famously used 25 years later in the film Dirty Dancing.

In 1964, Burke wrote and recorded his most influential song, ‘Everybody Needs Somebody to Love’, which was later covered by artists such as The Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett. Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi also performed the song in the 1980 film The Blues Brothers.

Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler dubbed him “the best soul singer of all time”. But Solomon Burke was more than just a great soul singer. He was first and foremost a man of God. He was the bishop of Solomon’s Temple – an evangelical church with 40,000 followers and 170 missions that had been founded by his grandmother after she reportedly dreamed of his birth 12 years before the event.

It was Burke’s religious beliefs that led Atlantic Records to market him as the first ‘soul singer’ after he objected to the record label describing his music as rhythm ‘n’ blues. At that time, many black churchgoers equated R&B with the music of the Devil.

Solomon Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and won a Grammy in 2003 for his album Don’t Give Up On Me. The album featured 11 tracks written for him by admirers such as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson and Elvis Costello. He recorded every song in one take.

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