SOLOMON BURKE was born to the sound of music in an upstairs room of a Philadelphia church and went on to become one of the greatest soul singers of the 1960s, renowned as one of music’s premier vocalists.

Yet his popularity never matched that of those he influenced, contemporaries including MARVIN GAYE and JAMES BROWN – a reality he accepted with grace and some frustration, colleagues said.

SOLOMON BURKE died early Sunday of natural causes at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, his family said in a statement on the singer’s website.

He was 70.

“This is a time of great sorrow for our entire family. We truly appreciate all of the support and well wishes from his friends and fans.”

“Although our hearts and lives will never be the same, his love, life and music will continue to live within us forever.”

The family did not elaborate on the cause of death.

Schiphol Airport police spokesperson Robert van Kapel confirmed that SOLOMON BURKE died on a plane at Schiphol. He arrived early Sunday on a flight from Los Angeles and had been scheduled to perform a sellout show on Tuesday in a church converted into a concert hall in Amsterdam with local band De Dijk.

Legendary ATLANTIC RECORDS producer Jerry Wexler once called Mr. Burke “the best soul singer of all time.”

ANTI RECORDS President Andy Kaulkin, whose label produced SOLOMON BURKE’S comeback record DON’T GIVE UP ON ME – which won him his first and only GRAMMY – said, “Popular music today wouldn’t be where it is without Solomon Burke.”

He called Mr. Burke a precursor to singers like BARRY WHITE and ISAAC HAYES.

“I feel like his music is where it all came together and when we think of 60s soul music it all started with Solomon Burke.”

SOLOMON BURKE, a giant man with a powerful voice to match, appeared on stage on a throne in later years partly because of his regal persona and partly because of health problems. He joined Atlantic in 1960 and went on to record a string of hits in a decade with the label.

Andy Kaulkin said Mr. Burke “gracefully” accepted the fact that his fame was eclipsed by singers he influenced.

“I think there was a little bit of frustration there but I don’t think it ruled him at all.”

Mr. Burke was always an enterprising personality. He sold Solomon’s Magic Popcorn outside gigs in the mid Sixties. On tours in the segregated south, he brought along a giant chest of sandwiches on his bus to sell to hungry black performers.

“He didn’t give you that much,” said SAM MOORE of the soul duo SAM & DAVE.

“He gave me one pork chop, one scoop of macaroni and cheese and one spoonful of gravy. I said, ‘Is that it?’ And he’d say, ‘That’s it, brother. I’m doing you a favour. So take it or leave it.’ There will never be another Solomon Burke.”

Two of his best known songs reached a wider audience when they were featured in hit movies.

He wrote EVERYBODY NEEDS SOMEBODY TO LOVE in 1964 and it was later featured in the DAN AYKROYD and JOHN BELUSHI movie THE BLUES BROTHERS. THE ROLLING STONES and WILSON PICKETT also recorded it.

A bare chested Patrick Swayze danced seductively with Jennifer Grey to CRY TO ME in one of the most memorable scenes from the movie DIRTY DANCING.

According to his website, SOLOMON BURKE was born MARCH 21, 1940, “to the sounds of horns and bass drums” from The United Praying Band at The House Of God For All People in West Philly.

“From day one, literally God and gospel were the driving forces behind the man and his music,” his website stated.

He remained closely linked to the church as a preacher. In 2000, he played for then Pope John Paul II at the Vatican.

SOLOMON BURKE was inducted into the ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME in 2001 and won a BEST CONTEMPORARY BLUES ALBUM GRAMMY a year later for DON’T GIVE UP ON ME.

Those honours sparked a renewed interest in the singer and he travelled extensively around the world in recent years, including touring with THE ROLLING STONES.

Mr. Burke and his band would play without set lists, instead performing whatever his audiences wanted to hear.

“It’s like turning back the hands of time instantly,” he said on his website.

“We can be in the middle of singing something from my recent Like A Fire album and they’ll call out Stupidity from 1957 and we’re back 50 years!”

SOLOMON BURKE combined his singing with the role of preacher and patriarch of a huge family of 21 children, 90 grandchildren and 19 great grandchildren.

“Loving people,” he said at a recent performance in London, “is what I do.”

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