Clip: Solomon Burke brings soul to 'capital of gospel'
Solomon Burke brings soul to 'capital of gospel'
June 3, 2005
BY DAVE HOEKSTRA Staff Reporter
Solomon Burke is a mountain of sanctification and soul. But all trails in
his life lead back to his grandmother Eleanora A. Moore, who founded
Burke's church, the House of God for All People. Known as the "Wonder Boy
Preacher," Burke delivered his first sermon at age 7 in his hometown of
Philadelphia. By age 12, he was ministering over the radio and traveling
throughout the Southeast on weekend religious crusades.
So Burke is a grand choice to headline this year's Chicago Gospel Music
Festival at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on the Pritzker Pavilion Stage in Millennium
Park. He's best known for sweet soul hits from the '50s, such as "Cry to
Me" and "Down in the Valley" (with Dionne Warwick singing gospel
background), and his last album, "Make Do With What You Got," features
gospel versions of Hank Williams' "Wealth Won't Save Your Soul" and "At the
Crossroads," which Van Morrison wrote for him. Burke will sing in front of
his 14-piece group and Chicago's Destiny Worship Center Choir.
Soul, of course, came out of gospel on the power of Chicago-based voices
such as Sam Cooke, Lou Rawls and Curtis Mayfield. But what is the
difference between gospel and soul?
"The secret is that gospel is the soul of myself," Burke answered in a
recent interview from his home in Los Angeles. "It brings on the purities
of the foundation and roots of what I am about, where I come from and where
I am going."
In fact, last week Burke released "Saved by the DNA," an all-gospel album
on his own GTR/The One label. His grandmother adorns the cover. The inner
sleeve features pictures of Burke's family, but it would take a box set to
get everyone in the liner notes. Burke has 21 children, 75 grandchildren
and 13 great-grandchildren.
"And still counting," he said in a youthful chatter. Then he returned to
his grandmother: "Her spirit still lives with my children and my children's
children. You can see her special mark in all of us."
One of the standout gospel tracks on the new disc is "God Wants You to Have
a Happy Birthday," which Burke co-wrote with one of his daughters.
"Somebody told me, 'Yesterday was my birthday,' and I said, 'No, no, today
is your birthday. Every day above ground is a birthday, every night is
Christmas Eve. Something new comes about. Time is something we can't put a
Burke does look forward to his Chicago visits.
"Chicago is the capital of gospel, blues, country and pizza," he said.
Burke loves his pizza, but after tipping the scales at 400 pounds for the
last several years he is beginning to suffer hip and knee problems. In
January, he embarked on a five-days-a-week swimming program. He also
attended classes on proper eating at Duke University in Durham, N.C. -- a
great spot for barbecue. In 1988, I had a four-course meal with Burke and
his wife at a Chinese restaurant in Los Angeles. The waiter brought us two
full tables of appetizers, which included shrimp toast, barbecued spare
ribs, hot chicken and egg rolls. We were eating for four.
"I've been losing [weight] gradually," he said. "I count the calories and
back away from the salts. And too much sugar. I love my pies and my cakes,
but I've learned to eat a small portion just to get the taste. You don't
have to eat a 22-ounce steak to enjoy the steak."
So far, Burke has lost 38 pounds, and his goal is to drop 150. Once he has
lost that weight, he will be healthy enough to undergo hip and knee surgery.
"I have never had surgery in my life," he said. "This will be an exciting
time. At age 65, here we go."
While in Chicago, Burke also will sing songs from "Make Do With What You
Got," (Shout! Factory), an organicMuscle Shoals-influenced project
featuring Memphis guitarist Reggie Young (latter-day Elvis Presley, early
Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson), Ray Parker Jr. of "Ghostbusters" fame on
lead guitar and Burke's longtime gospel organist, Rudy Copeland. The band
is a perfect fit for Burke's profound voice, which ranges from a church
crescendo and a husky country rumble. His most powerful performance is
delivered from a gutbucket country-soul version of the Rolling Stones' "I
Got the Blues."
Burke recorded Bob Dylan's "What Good Am I" at the suggestion of the
songwriter. Dylan included "What Good Am I" on 1989's "Oh, Mercy."
"I would love to ordain Bob," said Burke, who still preaches once a month
in Los Angeles. "He has spiritual messages he puts out around the world.
That is what ministry is about. People are preaching about Daniel and the
lion's den, but we need to preach and teach about reality and truth."
Unlike Dylan, Burke ministers through e-mail (houseofgod4ap@...).
"My grandmother used to say to wait 30 years and watch how you can
communicate with the world without being there," said Burke. "Look what you
can do with the power of prayer on your BlackBerry [wireless communication
device]. I'd say, 'Yeah, sure, Grandma. I love you, I respect you and
you're a prophet. So you must be right.' But now I know she is right. She
had the vision."
Burke's uncle ran a funeral home in Philadelphia, which led to Burke
obtaining a doctorate in mortuary science. His grandmother died on Dec. 19,
1954. Burke was 14 years old.
"She laid in the state room for four days," he said. "That was a hard time
for us. Believe it or not, by the 20th of December, I won a recording
contract [with Apollo Records]. By the 23rd of December, my record
['Christmas Presents from Heaven'] was on the radio. This is the miracle
and blessings of God. When you believe, you receive. You doubt, you do
The 21st annual Chicago Gospel Music Festival takes place this weekend at
and around Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Festival hours are
4-9:30 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more
information, call (312) 744-3315 or visit the Web site,
The schedule of entertainment is as follows:
Jay Pritzker Pavilion Stage
6 p.m. -- Angie Spivey & the Voices of Victory
6:40 p.m. -- Mark Hubbard & the United Voices for Christ
7:15 p.m. -- Byron Cage
8 p.m. -- Dorinda Clark Cole
8:30 p.m. -- The Williams Brothers
11:40 a.m. -- The Bank One Gospel Choir
Noon -- Urban Psalmist Dana Divine
12:30 p.m. -- Lights of Zion Mimes
1 p.m. -- Joshua's Troop
1:25 p.m. -- Stephen & Woola LaFlora
2:05 p.m. -- Dwayne Lee
2:45 p.m. -- New Orleans Exchange Artist, Nancy Armstrong & Company
3:20 p.m. -- Just Friends
3:55 p.m. -- Fortitude
Jay Pritzker Pavilion Stage
5 p.m. -- Doc McKenzie & the Hi-Lites
5:45 p.m. -- Concert pianist Dana Kristina-Joi Morgan
6:10 p.m. -- Lights of Zion Mimes
6:20 p.m. -- "Unity Segment" featuring the Bright Star C.O.G.I.C. Mass
Choir and the Apostolic Faith Church Mass Choir
7:30 p.m. -- Solomon Burke accompanied by the Destiny Worship Center Choir
8:30 p.m. -- The Rance Allen Group
Noon -- Doc McKenzie & the Hi-Lites
12:35 p.m. -- The Stars of Heaven
1:10 p.m. -- The Universal Jubilaires
1:45 p.m. -- The Windy City SpiritualaireS
2:15 p.m. -- The Inspirational Souls
2:45 p.m. -- Joey & Veronica Woolfalk
3:15 p.m. -- Pierre Walker & Project Sanctified
3:45 p.m. -- Rev. Roney Strong & the Sensational Strong Family
Jay Pritzker Pavilion Stage
5 p.m. -- Total Living Network's Inspiration Sensation
5:20 p.m. -- "A Touch of Chicago's Gospel Pioneers," featuring evangelist
Luvonia Whittley, Rodessa Porter, Robert Williams and Geraldine Gay
Hambric, hosted by Dr. Lucius Hall
6:15 p.m. -- Ray Bady
6:50 p.m. -- "The Mahalia Jackson Tribute" featuring Gina Thurston, Annette
"Queenie" Lenox and LaWonda Campbell
7:45 p.m. -- The "Power In Praise Experience" Tour, featuring Tye Tribbett
& GA, J. Moss, Israel & New Breed and Mary Mary