Sunday, October 10, 2010

Solomon Burke RIP

2009-0430_NOJazzFest_Day_4-1593, originally uploaded by NoVARon.
Word was just received that the great Solomon Burke has passed, dying in Amsterdam at the age of 70. Burke, known as the King of Rock'n'Soul was scheduled to perform in the Dutch City. The Philadelphia born Burke was a major soul artist of the sixties and seventies after having made his debut recordings as a gospel artist while very young. When he signed to Atlantic in 1960 he began a series of pioneering recordings such as "Down in the Valley," "Everybody Need Somebody", "Tonight's the Night," and "Cry to Me." The legendary Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler once referred to Burke as "the best soul singer of all time." He may never have achieved the popularity of Marvin Gaye or James Brown but he truly was a great singer and many of his songs have become staples of modern music.

Here is a clip of him singing "Down in the Valley.

In an interview with this writer, he was proud that "Down in the Valley" was one of the earliest soul renditions of country music. At the interview as he regaled me of his days as a child gospel singer, selling box lunches and the great days sharing the stages with so many other folks who were his peers, and also musical giants. He had a presence (charisma) about him that one felt when talking with him.

He also was a positive person and when discussing others like the great Big Maybelle (whose song "Candy" he recorded for the early 1990s Black Top album "Soul of the Blues"), he didn't discuss her problems but recalled her as a great performer. He recalled for me a performance at Chicago's Regal Theatre, as she somehow made it down the steps to the stage with folks wondering if she would. But once she was on stage, it was like nothing was wrong as she belted out her songs. Then she somehow made it back upstairs to the dressing room.

Here he sings "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love"

In live performance, he did more than simply introduce songs and sing them. One of the recordings that this writer would recommend was "Soul Alive" on Rounder where his preaching background was most evident in his medley of his recordings for which he would weave a lesson in living for us. One the stands in my mind was when he preached about "The Woman of Today," and how men have to learn new ways to love and cherish them.

In the eighties and nineties,Rounder Records and Black Top Records issued superb recordings by Burke, that was followed by recordings produced by Joe Henry which presented Burke in different contexts and singing different material and all these introduced him to new audiences while reintroducing him to older audiences.

I only saw him perform once, at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and he still had the voice as he sat on his crown and mesmerized the Congo Square stage audience. It was one of that year's JazzFest highpoints.

Here are some suggested recordings by him:

Very Best of Solomon Burke

Home In Your Heart: The Best Of Solomon Burke (a double CD collection)

Soul Alive

Soul of the Blues

Don't Give Up On Me

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