Solomon King was born Allen Levy in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1931. He first started singing professionally in 1952 – initially under the pseudonym, Randy Leeds – but his records such as I’m Gonna Live Til I Die did not sell.
He toured with Billie Holiday and subsequently sang backup to Elvis Presley in The Jordanaires before moving to Britain where he had solo hits, including She Wears My Ring (1968) and When We Were Young (1968), under the management of Gordon Mills (who also represented Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck).
His albums, She Wears My Ring (1968), King of Song (1969) and You’ll Never Walk Alone (1971) made little effort to be contemporary in their choice of material.
King would sing Jewish favourites (My Yiddishe Momma), wartime morale-boosters (The White Cliffs of Dover) and hits of the early 50’s (Stranger in Paradise, Be My Love).
He performed in Blackpool for a summer season in 1968 and was subject to jokes about his size (he was 6′ 8″), his shape (he had a 50″ chest) and how out of touch he was. He was furious when his co-star, the one-man band Don Partridge, introduced him as “the Alabama Elephant”.
King was best suited to cabaret and summer seasons, where he could converse with his audiences. He was a meticulous performer, always wanting to know the age and sex of his audience so that he could plan his performance accordingly.
For example, he would not sing about drinking during a matinee as there would be children listening.
The compere at the She Club in Liverpool, the radio DJ Billy Butler recalls;
“I’d heard about Solomon King appearing in other clubs and closing his act with God Save the Queen and I couldn’t believe that he would go down well at the She, which was a rough, tough club. When he came to the end of his act, he went into the national anthem and he paused before he hit that final note, which he then belted out. The audience loved him. He was so grateful to the British audiences for accepting him and this was his way of saying thank you”.
He had recorded a gospel song, This Beautiful Day, under a different pseudonym, Levi Jackson, and, although the single sank without trace in 1971, it was reactivated in 1978 and became popular on the Northern Soul circuit.
King moved back to the US in 1980 (following the breakdown of his 20-year marriage to Canadian journalist Henny Lowy) where he remarried and ended up playing the club circuit.
He died in Oklahoma on 21 January 2005 after suffering from cancer. He was 73.