Last week, we lost a musical giant.

Unfortunately, I find myself saying that much too often these days. But Solomon Burke was special. He was someone who deserved far more accolades than he received. In this paper, his obituary ran at the bottom of page B4.

So I am taking it upon myself to set the record straight.

Burke, who died of natural causes on Oct. 10 at age 70, had such a unique style that a new term was coined for it: soul. He could sing gospel, blues, R&B, pop and country with ease — one minute he had the roughness of 40-grit sandpaper; the next, the smoothness of freshly extracted honey. His first hit, the country-tinged “Just Out of Reach,” inspired Ray Charles to record his masterpiece, “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.” His vocal delivery was copied by everyone from Wilson Pickett to Percy Sledge.

The late Jerry Wexler, legendary producer for Atlantic Records, credited Burke with keeping Atlantic afloat after Charles’ departure from the label in the early 1960s with hits that included “Cry to Me,” “If You Need Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.”

I will never forget what Gregg Allman said to my dear friend Barb Strauss when she told him she had booked Burke for the 2003 Sarasota Blues Festival in Sarasota, Fla. Strauss said that Burke’s recent Grammy-winning comeback album, “Don’t Give Up On Me,” sounded like a cross between Otis Redding and Al Green.

“No,” Allman quickly corrected her. “Otis Redding and Al Green sound like Solomon Burke.”

I had the honor of interviewing Burke prior to his appearance at the Sarasota festival. We talked about his late-career resurgence and how, despite his influence on popular music, the type of fame awarded to his contemporaries had eluded him.

He wasn’t bitter — on the contrary, he was gracious, humble and had a wicked sense of humor. (Case in point: shortly before his death, he told a writer for Rolling Stone that he had converted Wexler, a Jew by heritage and a lifelong atheist, to Christianity before the latter’s death in 2008. In reality, he had made Wexler an honorary minister in his church and gave him permission to operate a walk-in clinic for circumcisions, which Wexler thought was hilarious.)

Burke also had a tremendous work ethic. This was a man who supplemented his income as a mortician and once did everything from drive a snowplow to sell sandwiches to tourmates during tours of the segregated South. He even performed before 30,000 hooded members of the Ku Klux Klan — which had booked him for a rally following the success of “Just Out of Reach” because they thought he was a white country singer.

“I performed for anybody who wanted to hear the music,” Burke told me. “And I’m very proud I did those things, because that lets you know people are people, and that music can reach into any situation in life if you want it to — without prejudice, without separation of mind and state.”

During the last decade of his life, health issues required that Burke stay seated onstage. But he took that in stride, too — he sat on a throne. And given his contributions to popular music, no one thought it was inappropriate.

In fact, I have no doubt he sits on one still.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at: [email protected] 

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