George Benson
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George Benson
George Benson
Benson in 1998
Benson in 1998
Background information
Born (1943-03-22) March 22, 1943 (age 77)
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
  • Singer
  • songwriter
  • musician
  • Vocals
  • guitar

George Washington Benson (born March 22, 1943)[3] is an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter. He began his professional career at the age of 19 as a jazz guitarist.

A former child prodigy, Benson first came to prominence in the 1960s, playing soul jazz with Jack McDuff and others. He then launched a successful solo career, alternating between jazz, pop, R&B singing, and scat singing. His album Breezin' was certified triple-platinum, hitting no. 1 on the Billboard album chart in 1976.[4] His concerts were well attended through the 1980s, and he still has a large following.[4] Benson has been honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.


Early career

Benson was born and raised in the Hill District of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.[5][6] At the age of seven, he first played the ukulele in a corner drug store, for which he was paid a few dollars. At the age of eight, he played guitar[5] in an unlicensed nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights, but the police soon closed the club down. At the age of 9, he started to record. Out of the four sides he cut, two were released: "She Makes Me Mad" backed with "It Should Have Been Me",[1] with RCA-Victor in New York; although one source indicates this record was released under the name "Little Georgie",[5] the 45rpm label is printed with the name George Benson. The single was produced by Leroy Kirkland for RCA's rhythm and blues label, Groove Records.[7] As he has stated in an interview, Benson's introduction to showbusiness had an effect on his schooling. When this was discovered (tied with the failure of his single) his guitar was impounded. Luckily, after he spent time in a juvenile detention centre his stepfather made him a new guitar.

Benson attended and graduated from Schenley High School.[8][9] As a youth he learned how to play straight-ahead instrumental jazz during a relationship performing for several years with organist Jack McDuff. One of his many early guitar heroes was country-jazz guitarist Hank Garland.[10][11] At the age of 21, he recorded his first album as leader, The New Boss Guitar, featuring McDuff.[3] Benson's next recording was It's Uptown with the George Benson Quartet, including Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone saxophone.[3] Benson followed it up with The George Benson Cookbook, also with Lonnie Smith and Ronnie Cuber on baritone and drummer Marion Booker.[3]Miles Davis employed Benson in the mid-1960s, featuring his guitar on "Paraphernalia" on his 1968 Columbia release, Miles in the Sky before going to Verve Records.

Benson then signed with Creed Taylor's jazz label CTI Records, where he recorded several albums, with jazz heavyweights guesting, to some success, mainly in the jazz field. His 1974 release, Bad Benson, climbed to the top spot in the Billboard jazz chart, while the follow-ups, Good King Bad (#51 Pop album) and Benson and Farrell (with Joe Farrell), both reached the jazz top-three sellers. Benson also did a version of The Beatles's 1969 album Abbey Road called The Other Side of Abbey Road, also released in 1969, and a version of "White Rabbit", originally written and recorded by San Francisco rock group Great Society, and made famous by Jefferson Airplane.[3] Benson played on numerous sessions for other CTI artists during this time, including Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine, notably on the latter's acclaimed album Sugar.

1970s and 1980s

By the mid-to-late 1970s, as he recorded for Warner Bros. Records, a whole new audience began to discover Benson. With the 1976 release Breezin', Benson sang a lead vocal on the track "This Masquerade" (notable also for the lush, romantic piano intro and solo by Jorge Dalto), which became a huge pop hit and won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. (He had sung vocals infrequently on albums earlier in his career, notably his rendition of "Here Comes the Sun" on the Other Side of Abbey Road album.) The rest of the album is instrumental, including his rendition of the 1975 Jose Feliciano composition "Affirmation".

In 1976, Benson toured with soul singer Minnie Riperton, who had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer earlier that year and, in addition, appeared as a guitarist and backup vocalist on Stevie Wonder's song "Another Star" from Wonder's album Songs in the Key of Life.

During the same year, 1976, the top selling album 'Breezin' was released on the Warner Brothers label featuring the Bobby Womack penned title track and the Leon Russell penned This Masquerade which is now a jazz standard. Both tracks won Grammy awards that year and the LP put Benson into the musical limelight both in the USA and in Europe. Ironically, Benson had been discouraged up until this time, from using his singing skills, mainly as the company decision makers felt he wasn't competent enough vocally, and he should stick to playing the guitar. It was here that he clearly proved them wrong.

He also recorded the original version of "The Greatest Love of All" for the 1977 Muhammad Ali bio-pic, The Greatest, which was later covered by Whitney Houston as "Greatest Love of All".[12] During this time Benson recorded with the German conductor Claus Ogerman.[13] The live take of "On Broadway", recorded a few months later from the 1978 release Weekend in L.A., also won a Grammy. He has worked with Freddie Hubbard on a number of his albums throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s.

Benson in Montreux 1986

The Qwest record label (a subsidiary of Warner Bros., run by Quincy Jones) released Benson's breakthrough pop album Give Me The Night, produced by Jones. Benson made it into the pop and R&B top ten with the song "Give Me the Night" (written by former Heatwave keyboardist Rod Temperton). He had many hit singles such as "Love All the Hurt Away", "Turn Your Love Around", "Inside Love", "Lady Love Me", "20/20", "Shiver", "Kisses in the Moonlight". More importantly, Quincy Jones encouraged Benson to search his roots for further vocal inspiration, and he rediscovered his love for Nat Cole, Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway in the process, influencing a string of further vocal albums into the 1990s. Despite returning to his jazz and guitar playing most recently, this theme was reflected again much later in Benson's 2000 release Absolute Benson, featuring a cover of one of Hathaway's most notable songs, "The Ghetto". Benson accumulated three other platinum LPs and two gold albums.[12]

1990s to present

In 1990, Benson was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Berklee College of Music.[14]

George Benson performing in Madrid, 2009

To commemorate the long relationship between Benson and Ibanez and to celebrate 30 years of collaboration on the GB Signature Models, Ibanez created the GB30TH, a limited-edition model with a gold-foil finish inspired by the traditional Japanese Garahaku art form.[15] In 2009, Benson was recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts as a Jazz Master, the nation's highest honor in jazz.[16] Benson performed at the 49th issue of the Ohrid Summer Festival in North Macedonia on July 25, 2009, and his tribute show to Nat King Cole An Unforgettable Tribute to Nat King Cole as part of the Istanbul International Jazz Festival in Turkey on July 27. In the fall of 2009, Benson finished recording an album entitled Songs and Stories with Marcus Miller, producer John Burk,[17] and session musicians David Paich and Steve Lukather.[18] As a part of the promotion for his album Songs and Stories, Benson has appeared or performed on The Tavis Smiley Show,[19]Jimmy Kimmel Live![20] and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.[21]

He performed at the Java Jazz Festival March 4-6, 2011. In 2011, Benson released the album Guitar Man, revisiting his 1960s/early-1970s guitar-playing roots with a 12-song collection of covers of both jazz and pop standards produced by John Burk.[22]

In June 2013, Benson released his fourth album for Concord, Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole, which included Wynton Marsalis, Idina Menzel, Till Brönner, and Judith Hill. In September, he returned to perform at Rock in Rio festival, in Rio de Janeiro, 35 years after his first performance at this festival, which was then the inaugural one.[23]

In July 2016, Benson participated as a mentor in the Sky Arts program Guitar Star in the search for the UK and Republic of Ireland's most talented guitarist.[24]

In May 2018, Benson was featured on the Gorillaz single "Humility".[25]

On July 12, 2018, it was announced that Benson had signed to Mascot Label Group.[26]

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed George Benson among hundreds of musicians whose material was destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.[27]

Personal life

Benson has been married to Johnnie Lee since 1965 and has seven children. Benson describes his music as focusing more on love and romance, due to his commitment to his family and religious practices, with Benson being one of Jehovah's Witnesses.[28] Benson has been a resident of Englewood, New Jersey.[29]



Grammy Awards

List of Grammy Awards received by George Benson[30]


  1. ^ a b Australian ABCTV Flashez interview January 1, 1977.
  2. ^ "45 discography for Groove Records". Retrieved 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d e Richard S. Ginell (March 22, 1943). "George Benson | Biography & History". AllMusic. Retrieved 2017.
  4. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 54. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
  5. ^ a b c Bird, Christiane (2001). The Da Capo Jazz And Blues Lover's Guide to the U.s.. Da Capo Press. p. 196. ISBN 0306810344. Retrieved 2012. Hill District George Benson.
  6. ^ Mitchem, Stephanie Y.; Townes, Emilie Maureen (2008). Faith, Health, and Healing in African American Life. ABC-CLIO. p. 111. ISBN 978-0275993757. Retrieved 2012.
  7. ^ Sulzer, Will. "Roots Vinyl Guide".
  8. ^ "NEW - Pittsburgh's Schenley school - whose alums include Andy Warhol and George Benson - to close". The Tribune-Democrat. June 26, 2008. Retrieved 2012.
  9. ^ Smydo, Joe (December 10, 2005). "Panel to study if Schenley High can survive". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2012.
  10. ^ "Hank Garland living in shadow of his greatness". Associated Press. July 8, 2004. Retrieved 2012.
  11. ^ Upchurch, Frances (December 20, 1978). "But Hank Sugarfoot Garland Was To Play His Guitar Again". Spartanburg Herald-Journal. Retrieved 2012.
  12. ^ a b "Digital Videos | Episodes (TV Series)". VH1. March 14, 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  13. ^ "The Work of Claus Ogerman". Retrieved 2017.
  14. ^ Chapman, Charles H. (October 7, 2010). Interviews With the Jazz Greats...and More!. Mel Bay. ISBN 9781609743673 – via Google Books.
  15. ^ "". Archived from the original on April 23, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  16. ^ National Endowment for the Arts (March 22, 1943). "NEA Jazz Masters: George Benson, Vocalist and Solo Instrumentalist (Guitar)". Archived from the original on May 29, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  17. ^ "Biography". George Benson. August 25, 2009. Archived from the original on February 8, 2010. Retrieved 2010.
  18. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on January 25, 2009. Retrieved 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  19. ^ "Tavis Smiley . Shows . George Benson . October 6, 2009". PBS. October 6, 2009. Retrieved 2010.
  20. ^ "Jimmy Kimmel Live Tomorrow Night, Wednesday Sep. 23!". George Benson. Retrieved 2010.
  21. ^ Mergner, Lee. "Jazz Articles: George Benson Appearing With The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon Show -- By Lee Mergner". Archived from the original on March 14, 2012. Retrieved 2010.
  22. ^ "George Benson: Guitar Hero". Retrieved 2017.
  23. ^ "G1 - Benson e Ivan Lins levam 'risada mais gostosa' e choro ao Rock in Rio - notícias em Rock in Rio 2013". September 15, 2013. Retrieved 2017.
  24. ^ "Tony Visconti, George Benson and Milo? confirmed as mentors in Sky Arts' new series of Guitar Star". March 8, 2016. Retrieved 2017.
  25. ^ "Gorillaz Confirm New Album 'The Now Now,' Share New Song, "Humility"". May 31, 2018.
  26. ^ "Mascot Label Group Celebrates Breakthrough Year". Mascot Label Group. Retrieved 2018.
  27. ^ Rosen, Jody (June 25, 2019). "Here Are Hundreds More Artists Whose Tapes Were Destroyed in the UMG Fire". The New York Times. Retrieved 2019.
  28. ^ Walden, Celia (April 6, 2010). "George Benson interview: love songs are one of the things in life that last". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2013.
  29. ^ "The State of Jazz: Meet 40 More Jersey Greats", The Star-Ledger, September 28, 2003, backed up by the Internet Archive as of September 27, 2008. Accessed September 15, 2017. "George Benson - A longtime resident of Englewood, Benson is a superb jazz guitarist who has found fame as a pop vocalist."
  30. ^ "Past Winners Search". Retrieved 2011.
  • 29 - George Benson Anthology (2000) info booklet

External links

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