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Sat, 03.21.1936

Solomon Burke, Singer, and Lyricist born

Solomon Burke

*Solomon Burke was born on this date in 1936.  He was a Black singer and songwriter. 

From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his family was religious: he attended church services at the House of God for All People and sang gospel music throughout his childhood. His musical solo debut came with the church's choir when he was nine, but it was preaching, not singing, that first marked him as something special. Soon he was giving sermons and becoming known as the Wonder Boy Preacher.

He began hosting a gospel program on Philadelphia radio by age 12 or 13, broadcasting from a church he called Solomon's Temple.  Artistically, Burke was influenced by the music of the church, as well as by Little Richard.  Burke signed to Apollo label in 1955; worked as a mortician in the late 1950s; signed to Atlantic label 1960; recorded a first major hit, "Just Out of Reach," 1961; reached R&B Top Five with "Cry to Me" (1962) and "If You Need Me" (1963); topped R&B charts with "Got to Get You Off of My Mind," 1965; moved to Bell label, 1969; recorded for Dunhill, MGM, and Chess labels, 1970s; continued to tour with the 21-piece band through 1990s. 

Burke transplanted elements of Black church services into secular music more effectively than any other artist except for perhaps Aretha Franklin. Burke enjoyed his greatest renown as part of the stable of soul vocalists under contract with the Atlantic record label in the mid-1960s. He remained a consistent crowd pleaser into the twenty-first century thanks partly to his luxurious self-presentation on stage; dubbed the "King of Rock and Soul," he once had an exact replica of the British crown jewels made for his onstage "coronations." Record sales, however, were always less important to Burke than his flamboyant live appearances.  Burke played on the tension between his gospel roots and his sensual appeal. "It would be a sin to pass up the pleasures the Lord made just for us," he once said, and indeed Burke fathered 21 children, large groups of whom he has sometimes dressed identically.

Long after his hit-making era ended, Burke continued to tour with a 21-piece band and to command strong attraction from female fans. By the late 1960s, the focus of soul music had shifted south to the Stax label in Memphis and Fame Records in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and Burke fell out of the limelight. In part, Burke blamed Wexler. "My relationship with Jerry Wexler is like a two-way street," Burke told Billboard in 1997. "There's one side where I'm angry for a lot for things that didn't go down and one side where I'm very grateful that he was there because he did develop Solomon Burke to a certain point, and then he stopped." Nevertheless, Burke included a Wexler-produced track on his 1997 album, Definition of Soul.  Solomon Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in April 2001.  Solomon Burke died on October 10, 2010.  

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