Early Sunday morning (October 10), the music world lost a true legend in Solomon Burke. The 70-year-old Grammy winner passed away while traveling to perform in the Netherlands, and he left behind an unmatched musical legacy that spanned several decades and about a dozen different musical genres. Burke's roots were in gospel music (he began his professional career as a preacher in Philadelphia) but grew to incorporate elements of soul, blues, R&B and rock music for a heavenly stew.
Though Burke possessed an excellent singing voice (not technically perfect, but full of style and personality), he is probably best remembered for the songs he wrote that were then covered by other artists. His biggest hit, "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love," was covered by the Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett and by the fictional band in "The Blues Brothers." His other best-known hit was "Cry to Me," which was a smash the first time around and then got a healthy revival as a part of the soundtrack to the film "Dirty Dancing."
Burke never really went away, though his career seemed to be experiencing constant revivals in the past decade, mostly as a collaborator with other artists (both classic and contemporary). His 2002 album Don't Give Up On Me featured a number of covers of tracks by the likes of Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Tom Waits and Bob Dylan. It also yielded the album's title track, which became a staple on the hit show "The O.C." (the episode where Peter Gallagher sings it is legendary). Burke also tried his hand at country music with 2006's Nashville, which featured guest spots from Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and a bunch of other country greats.
But it's his Costello cover — "The Judgment," from Don't Give Up On Me — that drives home everything that was great about Burke. It opens with an ominous groove, then settles into a place somewhere between jubilation and dread as Burke bends his voice around lyrics about all manner of judgment (though mostly the ultimate judgment). When Costello re-recorded the song himself on his 2004 album The Delivery Man, it didn't land with nearly the same punch. Burke was a singularity who understood the passion that exists in the soul, and he managed to go out and express those complicated feelings every time he opened his mouth to sing.