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Category 2: Long-form, internationally famous
The terrain of American soul music includes the deep rivers of Sam Cooke, the heavenly gardens of the Rev. Al Green and the hopeful trails of Mavis Staples.
Solomon Burke was a volcano.
Mr. Burke died early Sunday at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. He was 70.
Mr. Burke's family said on his website the singer died of natural causes but did not elaborate. He died on an airplane after a flight from Los Angeles. Mr. Burke was scheduled to appear in a sold-out show with a pickup band Tuesday in a church converted into a concert hall in Amsterdam.
Mr. Burke was larger than life.
He tipped the scales at 350 pounds. He was the father of 21 children and patriarch to 90 grandchildren.
At the age of 7, Mr. Burke became the "Wonder Boy Preacher" at the House of God in his native Philadelphia. Mr. Burke also held a doctorate in mortuary science.
And while he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, Mr. Burke's best-known material was covered by other artists: Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi popularized the 1964 Burke composition "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" in the hit film "The Blues Brothers," and Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey danced to Mr. Burke's ballad "Cry To Me" in "Dirty Dancing."
Director Jim McBride cast Mr. Burke in the memorable role of Big Daddy Mention, a New Orleans crime boss, in the 1987 film "The Big Easy."
Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler once called Mr. Burke "the best soul singer of all time."
His oratorical vocal style roared between a gospel crescendo and husky country murmur. The consistent and tonal richness of his voice reflected the fullness of his 70 years. When Wexler signed Mr. Burke to Atlantic Records in 1961, he filtered Mr. Burke's church roots through defined rock 'n' rhythm arrangements. Wexler had Dionne Warwick sing gospel behind "Cry to Me" and "If You Need Me," while future soul stars Otis Redding and Joe Tex contributed background rhythm patterns.
During the 1960s and '70s, Mr. Burke never performed without a cape and a crown. This bothered James Brown, the Godfather of Soul.
"I was booked for a concert with James in Chicago," Mr. Burke told me during a three-hour dinner in 1988 at a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. " 'Got To Get You Off of My Mind' [later popularized by Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes] was out. People were yelling for Solomon Burke, and James said, 'I'll teach you who's the king.'
"It came time for me to go on, and the guys told me to stand at the stage. I was all ready in the crown and robe, and I heard, 'Now, here's the man you've all been waiting for.' I thought, 'Really nice. They're giving me a nice buildup.' 'The man who's had such hits as . . .' and I thought he was going to say 'Cry to Me,' but he goes, ' "Please, Please, Please" . . . Mr. James Brown!' And Mr. Brown walks out and says, 'I'm James Brown, I'm the king.'
"He looks to me and says, 'I'm paying you, so you can give me that crown and robe.' I put the robe on him onstage. If he wanted to be king, he could be king. It was a great gig. I made five grand."
In recent years Mr. Burke appeared in concert on a throne due to his regal image and health problems. He also liked to use a church pulpit while recording in the studio.
In 2003, Mr. Burke recorded "Don't Give Up on Me" for Anti-Records, the same label that records Chicago's Mavis Staples. "Don't Give Up on Me'" featured Mr. Burke's heartfelt interpretations of new songs by Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson and others. Producer Joe Henry used the minimalism of Sam Cooke's 1963 "Night Beat" as a template for "Don't Give Up on Me."
Mr. Burke won a Grammy for best contemporary blues album for "Don't Give Up On Me," the only Grammy of his career. In a statement Sunday, Anti-Records president Andy Kaulkin said, "Popular music wouldn't be where it is without Solomon Burke."
In January 2003, Mr. Burke appeared with Staples and Chicago soul legends Otis Clay and Cicero Blake at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre in Chicago.
The place was half empty.
Other times in Chicago, Mr. Burke was relegated to 12:30 a.m. sets at the late great East of the Ryan nightclub on East 79th Street.
"Solomon had to go overseas to play, like Rufus Thomas and Otis Clay [who is huge in Japan]," soul singer Sam Moore of Sam & Dave fame said Sunday from Washington, D.C. "I did a show with Solomon in Italy. He was sweating profusely. A man that large had to go out of the country to make money because they wouldn't pay him in America. And they did not respect him over here. That's a shame.
"Solomon had something you don't hear today, and that's vocal power. Sometimes he didn't even need a microphone. I did a show with him once at the Apollo [in New York], and he stepped way back from the mike. I swear you could hear him out on the street."
During that long dinner in 1988, I asked Mr. Burke how he would like to be remembered. Mr. Burke slowly wiped his lips with an elegant napkin. There was a long silence. Then, he answered in part, "I know that death is something that is coming, but I'm preparing to live every day. So to be remembered is not to be remembered, but to be known as one who believed. There's a big difference."
And you can hear the difference in the majesty of his songs.