MANATEE — Solomon Burke, known as “the king of rock and soul,” was a big man.
So big, in fact, that when he headlined at the Sarasota Blues Fest in 2003, they raised him to the stage on a forklift.
He was wearing a black beaded cape, and though he may not have fit the standard image of a “hottie,” when he sat on a red and gold throne made for him by Blues Fest producer Barbara Strauss and addressed the crowd, something happened.
“Full-figured guy or not, it didn’t matter,” Strauss said Sunday night. “Whatever it was, he had it.”
Burke, 70, considered one of the greatest soul singers of the 1960s, died early Sunday, his family said in a statement on the singer’s website.
“I’m asked all the time what my favorite show has been in my 18 years,” Strauss said. “It’s hard because I’ve loved everyone. But I have to say Solomon Burke was one of the greatest shows. His band was a class act and their sound was unbelievable. He had 13 pieces, and they were all dressed impeccably. They just grooved so well.”
About a week before Burke was to appear, Strauss heard he had no idea where Sarasota was and was concerned his “throne,” which concert producers created for him due to his inability to stand for long, would not be up to standard.
“I’m not Suzi Homemaker, but I figure if other girls can do arts and crafts, so can I,” Strauss said. “I knew someone with a big chair with a big back. I became obsessed with that throne. I got gold paint, hated it, did it over in gold metallic paint, got red velvet for the cushion, did it all.
“When I saw him I said, ‘Dude, I heard you thought your throne in Sarasota would be weeny.’ He loved it.”
Burke was lifted up by forklift to the stage.
“It looked like he was coming out of the dust,” Strauss said.
The first thing he said to the crowd was, “Come to me.”
In moments, 5,000 people mushed up to the stage in front of Burke, knocking down a fence in the process.
“The police were saying, ‘What do we do?’” Strauss said. “I said, ‘It’s OK.’ It wasn’t manic at all.
“Everyone who saw that show will never forget it,” Strauss said.
“He sat on that throne and he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. It was his voice and the way he spoke. The difference between a good singer and a great singer is phrasing. He had that. He had it all, including charisma.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 748-0411, ext. 6686.