While Solomon Burke never made a major impact upon the pop audience – he never, in fact, had a Top 20 hit – he was an important early soul pioneer. On his ’60s singles for Atlantic, he brought a country influence into R&B with emotional phrasing and intricately constructed, melodic ballads and mid-tempo songs. At the same time, he was surrounded with sophisticated “uptown” arrangements and provided with much of his material by his producers, particularly Bert Berns. The combination of gospel, pop, country, and production polish was basic to the recipe of early soul. While Burke wasn’t the only one pursuing this path, not many others did so as successfully. And he, like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett, was an important influence upon the Rolling Stones, who covered Burke’s “Cry to Me” and “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” on their early albums.
Burke came by his gospel roots even more deeply than most soul stars. He was preaching at his family’s Philadelphia church, and hosting his own gospel radio show, even before he’d reached his teens. He began recording gospel and R&B sides for Apollo in the mid- to late ’50s. Like several former gospel singers (Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett), he was molded into a more secular direction when he signed with Atlantic in the 1960s.