Anyone who is interested in soul records must read “Sweet Soul Music” by Peter Guralnick. There’s plenty of Solomon Burke to be found there. Guralnick called Burke,”a combination of Sam Cooke at his mellifuous best and Ray Charles at his deep-down and funkiest, an improbable mix of sincerity, dramatic artifice, bubbling good humor, and multitextured vocal artistry.”
I remember the first time I saw Solomon Burke myself, in 1964. He was wearing a gold tuxedo with a gold cummerbund and was headlining a show that included Joe Tex, Otis Redding, and Garnet Mimms. Solomon had no competition. There has never been a warmer, more charismatic presence on stage, and when he stretched out his arms to the audience, when he declared at the outset, “There’s a song that I sing, and I believe if everybody was to sing this song, it would save the whole world,” there was scarcely anyone in that frenzied crowd who could resist either the message or the conviction that seemingly lay behind it.
Burke was a singer, a mortician, and a preacher. That was just for starters. He was a force of nature:
“I’d go to the radio station and see the disc jockeys, go to the church and, of course, have a prayer, go to the homes and bless the homes and babies, and then maybe baptize a few people. My schedule, you see, has always been a three-way personality. There’s the artist, the religious leader, and just plain old Solomon Burke, who had his problems, who had his love life problems. Sometimes that’s another movie, you know, God help us, Jesus.”