Soul survivor

Four decades after his first record, Solomon Burke is still in the studio and in God's arms

Stories have long circulated about Burke's generosity, about how he'll put so much money in the collection plate it'll literally overflow with bills or treat his band as though they were members of his family. Everything about him is larger than life, and his kindness is sometimes equal to his jacket size. Indeed, when the kids stroll around the church selling their raffle tickets--three for a dollar--Burke sits there with a wad of ones sticking out of his left hand. When kids come by, he buys a few tickets and lets them keep the money and the ticket: "Here ya go, darlin'," he says, handing out ones like plain paper.

And during dinner, he tells the waiter--with great secrecy, his voice reduced to a slight whisper--to bring him the check of the man sitting at the table next to ours. That man is none other than Ron O'Neal, the legend that was and forever shall be Superfly, and he and Burke go way back. Burke and O'Neal visit for a short while, talking business and friendship. Their words are warm, and they shake hands and pat each other's backs often.

"I want him to play me," Burke says, when O'Neal walks away, referring to his life story he'd someday like to turn into a film.

"If they made a movie of Solomon's life," says Jones, Burke's longtime opening act, "it'd have to be like Malcolm X--four hours just to fit in the highlights."

"My time will come," Burke says, his voice tinged with a little modesty, perhaps more than a little frustration. "A lot of the people in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are not around. A lot of people that have accomplished a lot of things or gotten recognition, they're not around. So I thank God for the longevity. I thank Him for extending my life and my career little by little, step by step, day by day. When my time comes, if it's for me, it's for me. It doesn't matter to me. I'm happy to see it happen for other people. I'm happy to see it happen for my friends, because I'm blessed. I'm wealthy with God's graces. Look at my kids. They all walk, talk, see, hear, with two legs, two arms, two eyes. C'mon--I'm blessed!

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