Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Solomon Burke - Here's My Life

Here's My Life

Like many Soul singers, Solomon Burke came up out of the Gospel tradition. Unlike most of them, however, he has remained intimately involved in the Church throughout his illustrious career, and continues to act as the Apostolic and Spiritual leader of his own congregation, The House Of God For All People.

In his own words, Solomon was "born a Bishop," coming into the world in an upstairs room at his Grandmother's Church while services were being held downstairs. As we talked about a while back on The B Side, Eleanora Moore, had received a vision that her grandson was coming. "A Child shall lead them," she was told, and set about building a church for the boy preacher that had been promised them, a church that would grow into The House Of Prayer For All People in West Philadelphia. That church had been chartered from one of the most charismatic and colorful figures in the early days of Gospel, Sweet Daddy Grace.

Marceline Manuel DaGraca was born on Brava, one of the Cape Verde Islands, in the 1880s. Hearing the call early on, he left for America in 1903 and set out to establish his ministry. He built the first House of Prayer for All People of the Church on the Rock of the Apostolic Faith with his bare hands in Wareham, Massachusetts in 1919. By 1926 he was already branching out, and the congregation he set up in Charlotte, North Carolina would bring him to national prominence. A controversial figure that was years ahead of his time, Grace was preaching to blacks and whites alike, holding giant pentecostal services that included brass 'shout bands' and mass baptisms on the beach (a tradition that continues in Charlotte to this day, with the help of the local fire department).

Sweet Daddy, as his followers called him, soon expanded nationwide. His flamboyant style and sharp business acumen combined to make him both extremely popular and extremely wealthy, with extensive real estate holdings from Harlem to Oakland, as well as his "own line of 'Daddy Grace' coffee, tea, soaps, and hand creams reputed to have healing properties." By the 1930s, Newark, New Jersey would become his base of operations, and his appearances at 'charter' churches, like the one in Philadelphia, became the stuff of legend. People would clamor to 'touch the hem of his garment', a garment that became increasingly more ornate as he proclaimed his status as the one true shepherd of his followers, empowered with the multiple gifts of the Holy Ghost. This was the man that would preside at Solomon Burke's baptism, becoming his true 'Godfather'.

By the time he was seven years old, Solomon was preaching from the pulpit of the Philadelphia House Of Prayer for All People, and he became quite the local phenomenon, just as his Grandmother had been told that he would. He would begin his own radio ministry while barely into his teens, eventually (among many other enterprises) beginning his own church, The House of God for All People, which would derive its charter from the House of Prayer. That Church has grown to include Solomon's Temples of the World and The Royal Universal Triumph Dominion Center of Life and Truth, with branches throughout the world.

Sweet Daddy Grace would be proud.

Doctor Burke, while certainly making no secret of the fact that he was the Bishop of his own Church, has pretty much kept his persona as our Greatest Living Soul Singer separate from that of spiritual leader. As you may know, my wife and I were married by Solomon fifteen years ago this coming May. While we always appreciated his religious side, and understood how solid his 'Gospel Roots' were, it wasn't until this past weekend that we experienced it firsthand. After a major mix-up kept us from attending his show at B.B. King's in New York last week, we decided to make the trip to see him in his hometown of Philadelphia.

According to Solomon's website, he was going to be appearing at The Greater Bibleway Temple on North 52nd Street in a "high praise and worship service celebration with Lady Thomasina James and many special guests..." We weren't sure what to expect, but we knew it was gonna be deep. We had no idea! After Lady James led the Church in some traditional hymns from the piano, he was introduced as 'Archbishop King Solomon Burke', and presided over a two hour service that included the Bishops and Elders of many area churches, as well as a number of members of his extended family.

The occasion was "The Apostolic Consecration and Love, Joy, Praise, and Worship Celebration of Overseer Laurena Burke Corbin to the Holy Office of Apostleship." Overseer Corbin is Solomon's younger sister, and the pastor of Our First Temple of Faith Mt. Deborah Pentecostal Church on Haverford Avenue in Philadelphia. Her solemn elevation to the rank of Apostle was truly a sight to behold, as she was surrounded by the Bishops and Elders who laid hands on her and literally raised her up whilst loudly praising the Lord in the language of the Holy Ghost. Simply amazing.

Archbishop Burke then invited the congregation to rise up and stand before him, as he bestowed on each of them their own Special Blessing that spoke directly to the heart of their relationship with God.

There was Joy, there was Weeping, there was Healing and the Casting Out of Demons. This was the real thing, folks. I finally began to understand just how deep Solomon is, and just how profoundly his secular music is illuminated by his Faith in Jesus. No wonder it's so good!

Solomon performed with Ira Tucker and the Dixie Hummingbirds last month in North Carolina, and there is talk about an upcoming Gospel album... if it's half as good as the material he recorded for Savoy in the eighties (like our current selection), it should be fantastic.

Here's to a man who has managed to remain 'a prophet in his own home', while fulfilling his destiny as the one and only 'King of Rock and Soul'. We consider ourselves truly blessed to have been there on Sunday, and are thankful for the continued presence of Solomon Burke in our lives.

"So Be It, Peace. All Is Well."