Saturday, December 03, 2005

Bishop Burke Plays the Vatican

Tonight in Rome, the Vatican held its annual Christmas concert. Papa Bear was not in attendance, but the event is usually taped for later broadcast to a worldwide audience. They always do a stellar job of booking these shows; then again, who would turn down the chance to say they played the Vatican? Let's be real here.

Of particular interest to Anglophone audiences this year was the presence of Dolores O'Riordan, the erstwhile yodeling lead singer of the Irish outfit The Cranberries, and -- Lord, Lord! -- Solomon Burke, The Reverend Solomon Burke.

As ecumenical gestures go, this beats Assisi by miles.

Readers of a certain vintage may remember Burke from the '50s, when "Cry to Me" was his biggest single. He returned to the fore a couple years back with "Don't Give Up on Me," the recording of which lured no less than Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Elvis Costello and Van Morrison to the backwoods Mississippi studio which birthed it.

Burke -- here in a file photo -- performed for the over 6,000 attendees from what could amply be described as a throne. (And quite a luxe one at that.) This is nothing new -- as shown above, he always performs from the pontifical position, as well he should. Twelve years before he even existed, his grandmother had a prophecy of his greatness, and so she founded what came to be called the House of God for all People in anticipation of his coming. He was ordained its bishop at birth, gave his first sermon at seven and, according to a piece on Burke at the time "Don't Give Up..." was making a splash, the church now numbers 40,000 adherents scattered across the globe.

Like many of his Catholic counterparts, Burke knows well of the perks of the life episcopal. "I realized being a bishop was good," he once said, "because bishops got two or three pieces of chicken when everybody else only got a leg."

With that mindset, visiting the Vatican is like a fish taking to water.

And you could search the whole of Christendom, but no prelate has the vocal stylings of this Bishop Burke.... The organizers really should've pulled a cappa magna out of mothballs as a fraternal courtesy. What a picture that would've been.