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RIP, Solomon, Oct. 10, 2010

This article was written following his July 8, 2006 concert at Toronto's Massey Hall
"What a wonderful world"

Why did Solomon call my wife from the stage of Massey Hall? And why did he lie to her about who I was with?... Plus, a great end to the night, thanks to some anonymous Good Samaritan. You can see four short You Tube videos from the concert.




Solomon Burke -- "The King of Rock & Soul", armed with a voice that's a world treasure, played his first show in Toronto for 15 years on July 8. I had never seen him perform, but appreciating not only his great 60's soul classics, but also his great recent CD's Don't Give Up on Me and Make Do With What You Got, I knew I had to see this show -- even at the cost of missing the closing acts of Saturday's Afrofest.

As it turned out, it was a wise decision...

I had expected a great musical week: three "highlight of the year concerts" occurring within a few days of each other (Salif Keita, Afrofest & Solomon Burke) is pretty remarkable. But, it turned out much better than I could have expected.

The crisis, and the show

I spent all of Saturday at Afrofest -- a two-day free African music festival that's always one of the best weekends of the year in Toronto -- but left early that evening, because I had a front-row ticket to see Solomon Burke at Massey Hall.

At the Wellesley subway station I encountered huge confusion, and a massive lineup at the ticket booth. People at the end of the line (a LONG way back) began yelling. I was getting a bit anxious because of the time, and had my $20 out, ready to buy tokens.

Finally I got through, jumped on the subway, got out at Queen, walked along Shuter, when I discovered that I no longer had my wallet with its money, credit cards, ID -- and front row Solomon Burke ticket! What to do? Quickly prioritizing, I headed for the box office.

Fortunately, I'd bought my ticket online, so they had a record of my purchase, and even ID-less, I was able to confirm personal information, so they wrote me a receipt for my seat, and I got to enjoy an absolutely superb show by a superb performer and a pretty remarkable person. (Before going in, I had called my wife; let her know what had happened, and asked her to call and cancel my credit cards. Second priority taken care of).

My replacement "ticket"

After a rousing opening by his band (several of whom had been with him for many years (or decades), he came out in the dark. The lights came up, and there he was, seated in his throne and resplendent (is there any other word?) in his sparkling purple suit. The throne is not just because of his musical stature, it's also a concession to his size (he must be at least 450 lbs). He sat there for pretty much the whole show, but could still generate more heart and soul while sitting than hundreds of others could jumping and dancing). However he did launch the concert on his feet, belting the powerful "I Need Your Love in My Life" (the first song you hear when you visit

This is a singer who began his career as one of the greats in his field, but has just become better with the years.

But it was not just a musical performance, it was his personality, character and heart that entertained, and drew in and won over the (easy to win over) audience with his radiance and warmth.  Just after he was seated, two large vases of red roses were brought out to sit on each side of him. They weren't there for him, they were for him to kiss and toss to the audience -- or at least to "the ladies", because his daughter and god-daughter gave them to the men. Soon, people came walking or dancing down the aisles to get a rose. (Mine's on the right).


"This is your concert, not mine" he told us. He made sure people sang along, got out of their seats to dance, getting the house lights raised to bring us all together. He couldn't think of a better place to start his tour than Toronto. "I'd love to live in Canada, but you couldn't afford to feed me."). He spoke earnestly of other performers, his band, and love and peace. ("If I was a bird, I'd fly over the White House, and tell President Bush to bring those soldiers home")... and especially his family. (21 children and 84 grandchildren... "You should come to my house sometime!")

He did his old hits, many in a medley, and performed many of his newer songs, often written for him by some of the great songwriters around.

The King & I

Well into the night, he asked people to join him on stage. About 40 of us got up,  dancing along with the greatest soul singer in the world.. (I couldn't believe this: I'd been on stage with Salif Keita and Solomon Burke in the same week!)

After a couple of songs, he brought the level down. Time to go back to our seats? No, "Sit down, sit down" he motioned, and we all settled around his feet, while he sang "What a Wonderful World"

I see friends shaking hands, saying "How do you do?"
They're really saying......"I love you".

And he would reach out to those closest to him, to hold and shake or clasp their hands.

There was no doubt how deeply he believed this truly is a Wonderful World.

During a song break, someone came over to take a picture of himself with Solomon using his cell phone camera. Solomon posed eagerly, asked "Is there anyone else with a camera?"

Damn! I seem to spend a quarter of my life taking music photos, and here I am, armed with nothing but a poor cell phone camera. May as well use that, so I got up. But things didn't work out as planned...

Somehow, as I tried setting it up, he asked me, "Is there anyone at home?"

"My wife"

"What's she doing there"

"Well, actually, she's trying to find my wallet that I lost on my way here."

"Let's call her" he suggests.

So, there I am, centre stage on Massey Hall, calling my unsuspecting wife...

I didn't have a chance to explain to her what was going on. Solomon takes the phone, and says to her "This is James Brown!", and then bursts into song:

"PLEASE! PLEASE! PLEASE!"... the band soon follows his lead.

"I bet he told you he was going to a Solomon Burke show" he said. "So what's he doing with James Brown?" he asked my by-now completely confused wife.

He continued the conversation, asking her what she plans to do with the money from my wallet, says how nice I am -- that I said I'd buy her any car she wants, etc. I know however why he finally said "I can't hear you" -- I figured she had no idea what was going on, and hung up. (She hung up on Solomon Burke??)

The call ended, he went back to singing, and we all continued to hang out on stage for another half hour until the concert finished.

After the show, people kept coming up to me saying "I hope you find your wallet". "Look... there's the dude", said one woman in the subway.

But the night and its magic was not quite done.

I took the subway back to the last place I'd seen my wallet, went to the ticket collector... who indeed had my wallet, with all its contents (including a front-row Solomon Burke ticket) intact, turned in by an unknown Good Samaritan

What a Wonderful World, indeed.


Long Live the King

A singer without comparison, and a pretty amazing person as well.

Check out the site will play several complete songs from his newest CD, provide all the usual background, bio info etc. But I was also impressed with the words on his  "Message from the King" page.

The first message is to his fans, encouraging us all to get involved with some charity, helping out with whatever (time, money, goods) you can "It will enrich your life to give". Also, to become involved in "your community, your government and your world."

The second message is to his children. "You are all kings and queens, my grandchildren are all princes and princesses, my great-grandchildren carry a royal line of blood that I know will never die. I love you more than I could ever express in words or meaning. You are the reason of my living. You are the heart and soul of my spirit."

I highly recommend Solomon Burke, live or on CD. His 2002 CD, Don't Give Up on Me most deservedly won him his first Grammy. A great place to enjoy him at his full powers.

His next CD will be country. Odd? I don't think so...

A great singer is a great singer, and Solomon is famous for taking any song -- unseen and unheard -- and just "soul" it.

But he has more claim to country than that. Ray Charles is acclaimed for his revolutionary boundary-crossing 1962 album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music album containing country songs like "I Can't Stop Loving You". But Solomon had beaten him to the punch two years earlier with "Just Out of Reach" recorded for Charles' former producer, Jerry Wexler.

The new recording will be produced by the great guitarist/singer/songwriter Buddy Miller, and will feature duets with many of country's top women singers including Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch.

Solomon Burke. Sometimes, royalty is earned.

NOTE: If anyone has any photo from the show, especially with us on stage, I'd love to get a copy!

Here's a review of the show from the Toronto Sun.