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Solomon Burke Biography

Home > Music > B > Burke, Solomon > Biography

Born: 1940/03/21
Birth Place: Philadelphia, U.S.
Years Active: 1955-present
Genres: Blues, Gospel, R&B, Soul

Solomon Burke was born James Solomon McDonald on March 21, 1940 in West Philadelphia and was a musician and songwriter who became a prominent force in the movement of R&B and soul music in the 1960s.

Burke's sound drew from his gospel, jazz, country and blues roots. He was able bridge a gap between mainstream audiences who embraced R&B and soul music and traditional jazz and blues audiences. Burke’s career spanned 55 years and spurred 38 studio albums with 35 charting singles on the Billboard Singles chart, of which 26 also charted on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart. In 2001, Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and 2003 saw Burke win a Grammy Award for the album “Don't Give Up on Me” in the category of Best Contemporary Blues Album.

Burke cited his grandmother as his biggest musical influence as she exposed him to many genres of music at an early age and taught her grandson to sing by listening to songs on the radio. Burke began preaching at the age of 7 and was nicknamed the “Boy Wonder Preacher.” Burke became a pastor of his congregation at the age of 12, and hosted a gospel show on a local radio station.

During high school, Burke formed the quartet the Gospel Cavaliers and received his first guitar from his grandmother. At the age of 15, Burke began to compete in local talent competitions and generated interest from the major record labels Apollo Records, Vee-Jay Records and Peacock Records. Burke signed with Apollo Records in 1955 and recorded nine singles for the label during his two-year tenure, the first of which was, “Christmas Presents.” Burke went on to work with King Curtis and Lester Young around this time, despite his first singles not selling well.

As a result of his commercial failure, Burke was dropped from Apollo Records after two years.1960 saw Burke sign with Atlantic Records and record 32 singles for the label, all of which charted on Billboard’s Pop and R&B Singles charts. Burke's second single for the label, “Just Out of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms),” was his first charting single, peaking at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #7 on the Billboard R&B chart. Burke’s next hit next hit came with “Cry to Me,” which peaked at #5 on the Billboard R&B chart and showcased a mix of country, R&B and gospel music. 1965 saw the release of Burke’s fifth album, “The Best of Solomon Burke,” which peaked at #22 on the Billboard Album chart.

As the 1960s came to an end and artists like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding were dominating the charts, the interest in Burke’s music began to decline. Unhappy with the attention he was receiving from his label, Burke left Atlantic Records and signed with Bell Records and landed a hit with a cover of the Creedence Clearwater Revival track, “Proud Mary,” peaking at #15 on Billboard’s R&B chart and at #45 on Billboard’s Pop Singles chart.

1970 saw Burke form his own production company, MBM Productions and debut, “Lookin' Out My Back Door.” Burke’s also signed with MGM Records with his debut for the label, “Electronic Magnetism,” failing to chart, despite his 1972 hit, “Love Street and Fool's Road,” which peaked at #13 on the Billboard R&B chart. Burke went on to produce moderate hits throughout the 1970s and jumped from label to label. 1978 saw Burke chart for the 31st time with his single, “Please Don't Say Goodbye to Me.”

2002 saw Burke sign with Fat Possum Records and release, “Don't Give Up on Me.” The album was met with critical acclaim and garnered Burke his first Grammy Award. 2006 saw Burke return to his country roots with the album, “Nashville.” In 2008 Burke’s music earned him another Grammy nomination for the album, “Like a Fire.”

2010 marked Burke’s final album, “Hold on Tight,” which was a collaboration with the Dutch band, De Dijk. On October 10, 2010, Burke died at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on a plane from Los Angeles that had just landed. He was scheduled to perform with De Dijk in Amsterdam just two days later.