The self-proclaimed "King of Rock and Soul" Solomon Burke died on Sunday at age 70 as he embarked on a sold-out tour in Amsterdam with the Dutch band DeDijk. One of the trailblazers of a yet-to-be-named R&B genre, Burke witnessed his songs being covered by giants of blues and rock & roll, including the Rolling Stones, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003 -- an honor that was long overdue.
His family confirmed that he died from natural causes as he sat on an airplane at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport. Married three times, Burke is survived by 21 children and 90 grandchildren.
On his Website, he describes how deeply his roots are steeped in gospel music:
"Gospel was part of my total career, not just something I started with, but something I live with, as my foundation and rock. I grew up a normal black kid in the ghetto, exposed to all kinds of music that influenced me as a songwriter and recording artist. I loved country, big band, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Perry Como, Doris Day, Gene Autry, Ray Charles, Dinah Washington, Roy Rogers -- all of whom in some way inspired me to reach my goal of doing something extraordinary with my life that would connect with people."
Though he had an expansive career as a soul singer, Burke said his heart remained in the church. He also served as a preacher and began his music career hosting a gospel radio show.
During his illustrious career, he performed for a U.S. president and for one of his biggest fans, Pope John Paul II, at the Vatican in 2000.
This March, Burke turned 70 and continued to make music. His most recent album, 'Don't Give Up On Me,' resonated with fans and critics. The album won a Grammy in 2002 for best contemporary blues album.
In 1960, Burke joined Atlantic Records, along with Ray Charles, Ben E. King and Wilson Pickett. His first hit was 'Cry to Me,' followed by 'Got to Get You Off of My Mind,' 'Tonight's the Night,' 'You're Good for Me,' 'If You Need Me,' and his most commercial hit, 'Everybody Needs Somebody to Love.' 'Cry to Me' became a hit again, when it was used in the popular feature film 'Dirty Dancing.'
Like Charles who followed him, Burke defined R&B music by fusing gospel with secular R&B along with his country music roots. He was said to have gotten Atlantic Records out of the red with his hits from 1961 to 1964. He had 17 million record sales.
Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler called Burke "the greatest soul singer of all time." He was surely one of the greatest and the trailblazer who cleared the path for so many greats to follow.
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