Solomon King

Singer best known for 'She Wears My Ring'

Many sentimental songs have been written about getting married and the most popular ones, like perennial Christmas offerings, are likely to be around forever. Among them are "Our Day Will Come", "We've Only Just Begun" and "Chapel of Love", but, as a simple declaration of love, none can beat "She Wears My Ring". In 1968 Solomon King's version went into the UK Top Ten and was a hit in 40 countries.

Allen Levy (Solomon King) singer: born Lexington, Kentucky 1931; three times married (three sons, one daughter); died Oklahoma 20 January 2005.

Many sentimental songs have been written about getting married and the most popular ones, like perennial Christmas offerings, are likely to be around forever. Among them are "Our Day Will Come", "We've Only Just Begun" and "Chapel of Love", but, as a simple declaration of love, none can beat "She Wears My Ring". In 1968 Solomon King's version went into the UK Top Ten and was a hit in 40 countries.

Solomon King was born Allen Levy in Lexington, Kentucky, in 1931 and he was raised with a love of popular standards and country music. He made his first stage performances when he was 10 and started singing professionally in 1952. His first pseudonym, Randy Leeds, was uninspired and his records such as "I'm Gonna Live Til I Die" did not sell. He had little success in America but did open for the jazz legend Billie Holiday.

In 1960 Levy married a Canadian journalist, Henny Lowy, after she had interviewed him, and they had four children. In 1965, he decided that the best place to make his mark would be in England and he spent his time in London around Denmark Street, hoping for a record deal. He assumed one of the best of all stage names, Solomon King, although he was reluctant to admit it was a stage name and it suited his ego.

The rock manager Gordon Mills had created a market for macho, big-voiced singers with Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, and he thought King, who was six foot eight with a 50-inch chest, was another possibility.

"She Wears My Ring", based on La Golondrina ("The Swallow)" by the Mexican composer Narciso Serradel Sevilla, was written by the Nashville husband-and-wife team Boudleaux and Felice Bryant. Although it was recorded by Roy Orbison for his 1962 LP Crying, its potential had not been spotted and it had not been released as a single. Solomon King's recording, which was produced by Peter Sullivan, went to No 3 and was on the UK charts for five months. The record could only manage No 117 in the US, where it was eclipsed by a country-music version by Ray Price.

The follow-up, "When We Were Young", was written by Les Reed and Barry Mason, and Mason recalls,

Gordon Mills wanted us to think of him as being somewhere between the romantic Engelbert and the sexy Tom Jones, but he was more of a character and quite camp. He had been raised in the variety tradition and his heroes were people like Frankie Laine. He was super-confident and he told me that he was going to make "When We Were Young a No l hit. I was very impressed because, even with my best songs, I was never as confident as that.

"When We Were Young" made the Top Thirty, but King's other singles failed to make the chart.

King claimed to be born in 1940 but his choice of songs belied that. His albums She Wears My Ring (1968), King of Song (1969) and You'll Never Walk Alone (1971) were unlikely affairs, making 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 Fifties ("Stranger in Paradise", "Be My Love").

He performed in Blackpool for a summer season in 1968 and was subject to jokes about his size, his shape 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". He responded to the criticism in Disc magazine,

People say I should stop singing ballads and do rock'n'roll but I am not a teenybopper. I am the father of four kids and in my time I have sung rock, blues, jazz and bop and how many hippies can say that?

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, clothes and sex of his audience so that he could plan his programme. For example, he would not sing about drinking during a matinée 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.

In 1974 King recorded the title song for the feeble film The Doll Squad, starring Francine York, which is now seen as a prototype for Charlie's Angels. 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 was divorced in 1980 and returned to America, where he married again.

Spencer Leigh



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