Solomon Burke: A ‘Founding Father’ of Rhythm-and-Blues
Jennifer J. Lacelle
The familiar sounds of Solomon Burke’s gravelly and passionate voice can be heard on the radio, television and films. Rhythm-and-Blues is a type of music that features the lively, upbeat mix of soul, jazz and the blues. It began rising in popularly, often said to be post-war, in the 1940s. This style originates in the African-American community and is considered a precursor to rock and roll.
Even if you don’t recognize Burke’s name, you’re sure to know his top hits: Cry to Me, If You Need Me, Got to Get You Off My Mind, Down in the Valley and Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.
Burke was a radio show host and preacher by the age of 12 and his ministry was called Solomon’s Temple. If you’re unfamiliar with the Biblical reference to Solomon’s Temple, it is also known as the First Temple. The structure was built in Jerusalem by King Solomon. Of course, Burke’s ministry was situated in his hometown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania instead.
It wasn’t until 1955 that Burke began recording music. His first hit—a rhythm-and-blues cover of Just Out of Reach—didn’t happen until 1961 though. Throughout the early 1960s he recorded hit after hit before a slow decline in fame. However, his greatest hit was a cover of Proud Mary in 1969.
He spent much of his career touring the world and made a strong comeback in the early 2000s. He, and his family, were invited to the Vatican to perform in 2000 and was invited twice thereafter by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.
After being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 he sprung into action with a release in 2002 called Don’t Give Up on Me, which won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album the next year.
Other 2000s-era nominations he received in that category include Make Do With What You Got (2005), Like a Fire (2008) and Nothing’s Impossible (2010).
Burke’s fiery soul continued to blaze brightly with features in hit songs throughout 2004 and a duet with Italian singer, Zucchero. In 2006, he released another album (Nashville) with guest singers such as Dolly Parton and Gilliam Welch — among several others.
In 2008, Burke was not only named in the Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Singers of All Time but he also toured Europe.
Unfortunately, on October 10, 2010, Solomon Burke passed away two days before he was set to perform with Dutch band, De Dijk, with whom he collaborated to create what would now be his final album, Hold on Tight. It was released in 2011.
Throughout his fifty-five-year career he released 38 studio albums and even more singles that made it into the charts. Despite being heralded as one of the founding fathers of rhythm-and-blues his music never reached the top 20 charts.
His work still lives on through film and television. His gritty, emotional voice can be heard on notable films such as Second Act (2018) starring Jennifer Lopez and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) starring Henry Cavill.
Many in Burke’s family have careers in the music industry and he reportedly had over 20 children and 90 grandchildren.
Burke is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Hollywood Hills, Los Angles.
Listen to his hit song, Cry to Me, here: