- Associated Press - Sunday, October 10, 2010

AMSTERDAM (AP) — Solomon Burke, the larger-than-life “king of rock and soul,” who was revered as one of music’s greatest vocalists but never reached the level of fame of those he influenced, died early Sunday at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. He was 70.

Born to the sound of music in an upstairs room of a Philadelphia church, Mr. Burke was acknowledged as one of the greatest soul singers of the 1960s, but his popularity never matched that of such contemporaries as James Brown and Marvin Gaye.

Two of Mr. Burke’s best-known songs reached a wider audience when they were featured in hit movies.

He wrote “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” in 1964, and it later was featured in the movie “The Blues Brothers,” starring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi. The Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett also recorded it.

A bare-chested Patrick Swayze danced seductively with Jennifer Grey to Mr. Burke’s “Cry to Me” in one of the most memorable scenes from the movie “Dirty Dancing.”

Legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler once called Mr. Burke “the best soul singer of all time.”

Anti- Records President Andy Kaulkin, whose label produced Mr. Burke’s comeback record, “Don’t Give Up on Me,” which won him his first and only Grammy, said, “Popular music today wouldn’t be where it is without Solomon Burke.”

Mr. Kaulkin called Mr. Burke a precursor to singers such as Isaac Hayes and Barry White.

“I feel like his music is where it all came together, and when we think of ‘60s soul music, it all started with Solomon Burke.”

Mr. Burke, a giant man with a powerful, soulful voice to match, appeared onstage on a throne in later years partly because of his regal persona and partly because of health problems. He joined Atlantic in 1960 and went on to record a string of hits in a decade with the label.

Mr. Kaulkin said Mr. Burke “gracefully” accepted the fact that his fame was eclipsed by singers he influenced.

“I think there was a little bit of frustration there, but I don’t think it ruled him at all,” Mr. Kaulkin said.

Mr. Burke’s family said on his website the singer died of natural causes, but did not elaborate.

“This is a time of great sorrow for our entire family. We truly appreciate all of the support and well wishes from his friends and fans,” the statement said.

“Although our hearts and lives will never be the same, his love, life and music will continue to live within us forever,” it added.

According to his website, Mr. Burke was born March 21, 1940, “to the sounds of horns and bass drums” at the United Praying Band The House of God for All People in West Philly.

“From day one, literally God and gospel were the driving forces behind the man and his music,” his website said.

He remained closely linked to the church as a preacher. In 2000, he played for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

Schiphol Airport police spokesman Robert van Kapel confirmed that Mr. Burke died on a plane at Schiphol. He arrived early Sunday on a flight from Los Angeles and had been scheduled to perform a sellout show on Tuesday in a church converted into a concert hall in Amsterdam with local band De Dijk.

Mr. Burke was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 and won a Best Contemporary Blues Album Grammy a year later for “Don’t Give Up On Me.”

Those honors sparked a renewed interest in the singer, and he toured extensively around the world in recent years, including touring with the Rolling Stones.

Mr. Burke and his band would play without set lists, instead performing whatever the audience wanted to hear.

“It’s like turning back the hands of time instantly,” he said on his website. “We can be in the middle of singing something from my recent ‘Like A Fire’ album, and they’ll call out ‘Stupidity’ from 1957 and we’re back 50 years!”

Mr. Burke combined his singing with the role of preacher and patriarch of a huge family of 21 children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.

“Loving people,” he said at a recent performance in London, “is what I do.”

Nekesa Mumbi Moody reported from New York; Associated Press writer Mike Corder in the Hague contributed to this report.

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