Solomon Burke, 70

Grammy-winning R&B singer was also Pentecostal preacher

Solomon Burke performs at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2009.
Solomon Burke performs at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2009. (Valentin Flauraud)
By Terence McArdle
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 11, 2010

Solomon Burke, 70, the Grammy-winning rhythm and blues singer whose early recordings defined the soul music genre, died Oct. 10 on a plane at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, apparently during or shortly after a flight from Los Angeles.

Mr. Burke had traveled to Amsterdam for a sold-out performance accompanied by a local band. The cause of death was not reported.

Anointed "King Solomon" by promoters and disc jockeys, Mr. Burke was known for his outsized personality, regal bearing - he often wore a crown and carried a scepter - and above all, his rich baritone voice.

With his contemporaries Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, Mr. Burke brought the enduring influences of gospel and country music to bear on rhythm-and-blues - a combination much copied by other soul singers throughout the 1960s.

He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 for a career that included hit recordings "Just Out of the Reach (of My Two Open Arms)" (1961); "Everybody Needs Somebody" (1964), later covered by the Blues Brothers and the Rolling Stones; and "Got to Get You Off My Mind" (1965) - reportedly written the day that Cooke was fatally shot.

He reached a younger generation of listeners when Jennifer Gray and a bare-chested Patrick Swayze slow-danced to Mr. Burke's recording "Cry to Me" (1962) in the 1987 movie "Dirty Dancing."

His recording career slowed after he left Atlantic Records in the early 1970s, and he reemerged in the 1980s with a series of critically acclaimed albums. In 2002, he won a best contemporary blues album Grammy for "Don't Give Up on Me," featuring new songs by such rock musicians such as Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson and Tom Waits - many specifically written for him.

Washington Post music critic Richard Harrington said that while the album's songs were all new to the singer, "he made them his by tapping directly into their emotional cores."

"I've never heard anyone with a greater voice," said music writer Peter Guralnick, who interviewed Mr. Burke for his book "Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm'n' Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom.

Mr. Burke, who first preached on Philadelphia street corners at age 8, also presided as archbishop of the House of God for All People in Los Angeles, a Pentecostal church also known as Solomon's Temple.

He brought a ministerial zeal to his secular performances. In later years, when obesity and arthritis made walking impossible, he performed seated in a throne with buckets of roses on either side.

He would recruit men from the audience to distribute roses throughout the house while women queued up on stage for a kiss.

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