The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum

American Music Masters Moments: Solomon Burke

Monday, October 31: 3 p.m.
Posted by Jason Hanley
Wearing his custom hat, Solomon Burke performs from his throne at the 2005 AMM tribute to Sam Cooke

American Music Masters Moments: Solomon Burke is the third installment in a series that shares stories from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's American Music Masters® events through the years. The first post in the series remembered Les Paul, while the second recalled the 2010 tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew. Beginning in 1996 with a tribute to Woody Guthrie, the American Music Masters series has honored artists who've been instrumental in the development of rock and roll with a range of events celebrating their careers. Each AMM brings together musicians from around the world, setting the stage for special, once-in-a-lifetime moments. These are those stories.

One of my favorite memories is from the 2005 American Music Masters honoring Sam Cooke. I spent four days working with legendary soul singer and 2001 Hall of Fame inductee Solomon Burke. During that time, I went to rehearsals with him, interviewed him about his music and life, ate meals with him and his family, and even went hat shopping with him. One of his classic stage moves was to wear a beautiful fedora-style hat during his performance and then toss it into the crowd at the end of his set. Still, he was very particular about his hats, so we had to drive around looking for just the right hat shop to purchase one hat for the show and another for him to keep. Once we finally found the right place, he insisted that he buy one for me, too. When I told him that he didn’t have to do that, he told me: “You’re riding with me now. You have to look the part, my man!”  The hat was great, and he had the headband personalized with my name. During the tribute concert, he asked me to come on stage and throw my hat out to the audience with him. I told him that I would rather not, asking, “If Solomon Burke gave you a personalized hat, would you throw it in the crowd?”

“No way! No way!” he said with a smile as he sat down on the “throne” where he performed.  “You keep it and remember me,” he said.  I still do. (pictured below: Burke at his "throne" after tossing his hat to the audience)

Below is part of the oral history interview I did with Solomon Burke, who passed away in October 2010. In it, he talks about first coming to Atlantic Records.

Jason Hanley: How did you end up getting signed with Atlantic records?

Solomon Burke: I think it was 1960 when we first went to Atlantic Records. We had been on Apollo Records, and we had been on Singular Records, which was out of Philadelphia at that time, with my manager, “Babe” Chivian. We went into New York to sell a master of a song called “This Little Ring,” which I had written. From our interview, we met with a gentleman by the name of Herb Abramson, who was the ex-husband of Mrs. Bienstock, who owned Atlantic Records at that time… [along with] Ahmet Ertegün and Jerry Wexler. They decided that they no longer needed Ray Charles. I happened to show up on the day that Ray Charles was released from Atlantic Records at his own choosing, and was signed immediately. It was just incredible.

Hanley: Did the “This Little Ring” master tape get your foot in the door at Atlantic?

Burke: They never heard the tape – never heard the tape, [I] never played the tape. I think a gentleman who worked for Billboard, Paul Akerman, had called them and said, “Solomon’s coming over,” and Mr. Herb Abramson had called his ex-wife, Mrs. Bienstock, and said, “I’m sending Solomon over, babe, and I think you should listen to him.” And they never listened. They never listened to me. It was amazing. And we were signed. I wanted to be on Atlantic Records, I was just fascinated by the fact that I was sitting in an office, surrounded by some of the greatest black artists – on pictures – that I’d ever seen in my life – Ruth Brown, LaVern Baker, Joe Turner, Chuck Willis, Ray Charles, Ivory Joe Hunter – and I’m just going around this, around and around the wall, just looking at all the great pictures, and thinking that I might have the opportunity to be on this label. Was very fascinating. Very, very amazing.

This year, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum pays tribute to Aretha Franklin, including a tribute concert on November 5, featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Dennis Edwards (of the Temptations), Ronald Isley (of the Isley Brothers), and Spooner Oldham, as well as 2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Nominee Chaka Khan, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Jerry Butler, Patti Austin, Kris Bowers, Carla Cook, Melinda Doolittle, Mike Farris and Cissy Houston.. For more information about the exciting week of events, click here!

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