Solomon Burke
Birth Date:
March 21, 1940
Birth Place:
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Famous for:
Soul and country music pioneer
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Got to Get You off My Mind


Solomon Burke, who was born in 1940 and died in 2010, is often referred to as “King Solomon,” the “King of Rock 'n' Soul” and the “Bishop of Soul.” He produced a number of hit songs with Atlantic Records, including “Cry to Me,” “If You Need Me,” “Goodbye Baby (Baby Goodbye), “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” “Got to Get You off My Mind” and “Tonight's the Night,” his last Top 40 pop hit. He scored his last charted single on the rhythm and blues chart in 1978 with “Please Don't You Say Goodbye to Me” but remained a popular performer on the blues festival and club circuit. Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

Burke had been married at least three times and had 21 children. At the time of his death, he had 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

Boy Wonder Preacher

Childhood and Family:

James Soloman McDonald was born on March 21, 1940, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to singer Josephine Moore (1920-1990). He never knew his biological father. At birth, he was ordained a bishop by his grandmother, Eleanor Alma “Mother” Moore, in Solomon's Temple, a church related to the United House of Prayer For All People, which was established by her in her home. Preaching by age 7, Solomon was later nicknamed “Boy Wonder Preacher.”

In 1949, after his mother's marriage to Vincent Burke (1917-1978), Sol changed his name to Solomon McDonald Vincent Burke. He had one younger sister, Laurena Burke-Corbin (born 1946), and five younger brothers, Elec Edward “Alec” (born 1948), Vladimir H. “Laddie” (born 1949), Mario “Chuck” (born 1953), Daniel S. “Danny” (born 1955) and Jolester R. M. Burke (born 1958). Sol was educated at the Mayer Sulzberger Junior High School in West Philadelphia and the Roman Catholic High School for Boys, where he played football. He also attended John Bartram High School in Philadelphia.

Sol was married to Doris P. Williams for two months, but it was annulled in August 1958. The marriage produced one child, Valerie Doris Gresham (born on September 16, 1957). His second marriage, to Jair Besalu, resulted in four kids. He and his third wife, Delores Clark, had 13 children.

On October 10, 2010, Sol passed away at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands. According to his family, he died of natural causes. He was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, Los Angeles, California.

Cry to Me


Solomon Burke formed a quartet known as the Gospel Cavaliers when he was a teenager. He wrote his first song, “Christmas Presents from Heaven,” at age 14 after receiving his first guitar. He recorded the song the day before his grandmother’s death and again at her funeral on December 24, 1954, after which he received invitations from local churches to play at their Christmas programs. It was during a performance at the Liberty Baptist Church, in Philadelphia, that Burke and the Gospel Cavaliers attracted the attention of Viola Williams, the wife of a local deejay. At her encouragement, Burke solitarily entered a talent contest that offered a recording contract as a prize. He won the competition and signed a personal management contract with Kae Williams. In 1955, he officially began his recording contract with Bess Berman's Apollo Records. He signed with Atlantic Records in 1960.

Burke’s first hit was released in 1960 and titled “Just Out Of Reach.” The hit song “Cry to Me” followed in 1962 (Atlantic label) and years later would receive a resurgence after the hit movie “Dirty Dancing” used it in a scene of the movie. “Cry to Me” peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and No. 44 on the Billboard Hot 100. His next release, “I'm Hanging Up My Heart For You,” rose to No. 15 on the U.S. R&B chart.

Burke enjoyed a fruitful, if not colorful career and life. Constantly struggling with his weight, which often tipped the scales between 300 to 400 pounds, he was later confined to a wheelchair. Releasing countless songs and albums during his career, some of Burke’s well known hits include “Down in the Valley” (co-written with songwriter, producer Bert Berns, 1962), “Got to Get You Off of My Mind” (#1 on Billboard magazine’s R&B chart, 1965), and “You’re Good for Me,” (1963). Other charted hits include “Be Bop Grandma,” (1961), “I Almost Lost My Mind” (1962), “Tonight My Heart is Crying” (1962), “Beautiful Brown Eyes” (1963), “Someone To Love Me” (1964), “Tonight’s The Night” (1965) and “Up Tight Good Woman” (1968), to name a few. Later released charting songs include such hits as “Bridge of Life” (1971, through MGM), “I’m Leaving On That Late, Late Train” (1975, Chess label) and “See That Girl” (1978, Amherst label). Some of his noteworthy albums include “Solomon Burke’s Greatest Hits” (1962, Atlantic), “If You Need Me” (1963, Atlantic), “Rock ‘n’ Soul” (1964, contained 7 top 100 Billboard Hits), “King Solomon” (1967), “We’re Almost Home” (1972, MGM), “From the Heart” (1981), “Take Me, Shake Me” (1983, Savoy), “Soul of the Blue” (1993, Black Top label), and “Don’t Give Up On Me” (2002, won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album), to give a sample.

Soundtracks have long used Burke’s music. In addition to a resurgence of interest in his music after the popular movie “Dirty Dancing,” his music has been heard in features like “Dead Presidents” (1995) and “All I Wanna Do” (1998). Series his songs have been heard in include episodes of “Crossing Jordan” (2002), “Coach Carter” (2005) and “House M.D.” (2005).

Solomon Burke died at an airport in the Netherlands on October 10, 2010, of natural causes. He was in route to a performance.


  • Grammy Awards: Best Contemporary Blues Album, “Don’t Give Up On Me,” 2003

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