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Solomon Burke was a giant. His presence and his voice were on par with singers that achieved a level of fame that far surpassed his own, yet he still wrote some of the most influential songs of the soul generation.
Down in the Valley appeared on Redding’s 1965 album Otis Blue, and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love (written in 1964) was covered by Wilson Pickett and featured prominently in the movie the Blues Brothers.
Before entering the music business, Burke was a preacher and hosted a gospel radio show. While not on tour Burke owned and operated a funeral parlor in Los Angeles, a business he had learned from his uncle. In the 2000s Burke experienced a revival after recording the Grammy award-winning album for Fat Possum Records-produced by Joe Henry-entitled Don’t Give Up On Me. The album featured songs written by artists such as Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. He went on to record four more albums with a fifth album to now be released posthumously, including the acclaimed Nashville and Like a Fire.
My first introduction to Solomon Burke came from the song Cry to Me. This classic song is a bridge between early doowop and later R&B music. It features doowop backing vocals but Solomon Burke climbs far above that style with the raw emotion that is such a staple of his music. His voice always felt to me to combine a level of melancholy and optimism that has not been matched. It was more than just being a soul singer. Burke’s style combined a command of dynamics and tempo with a strong range and a smoky voice to create a unique and unparalleled power. He was an artist who masterfully found and inhabited the proverbial “pocket”. Not too fast, not too slow and neither too loud or too subdued. He made music that was just right.
Solomon Burke died today of natural causes en route to Amsterdam at the age of 70. He will be missed.
Enjoy a few of my favorite tracks and raise a glass to the one, the only, Solomon Burke.
Don’t Give Up On Me
10 None Of Us Are Free
Everybody Needs Somebody To Love
Cry to Me
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