Sunday Night Music Byte
George Benson (born March 22, 1943) is a Grammy Award-winning American musician, whose recording career began at the age of twenty-one as a jazz guitarist. He is also known as a pop, R&B, and scat singer. This one-time child prodigy topped the Billboard 200 in 1976 with the triple-platinum album, Breezin’. He was also a major live attraction in the UK during the 1980s. Benson currently lives in Florida and is an active Jehovah’s Witness. Benson uses a rest-stroke picking technique very similar to that of gypsy jazz players such as Django Reinhardt.
Benson was born and raised in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the age of 7, George first played the ukulele in a corner drug store to which he was paid a few dollars. At the age of 8, George was playing guitar in an unlicensed nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights which was soon closed down by the police. At the age of 10, George recorded his first single record with RCA-Victor in New York, called ‘She Makes Me Mad’.
Miles Davis employed Benson in the mid 1960s, featuring his guitar on “Paraphernalia” on his 1968 Columbia release, Miles in the Sky. Benson went to Verve Records afterwards. Then, Creed Taylor signed him up for his CTI label, where he recorded numerous albums with jazz heavyweights guesting to limited financial success. 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 Jefferson Airplane, around this time.
By the mid to late 1970s, as he recorded for Warner Bros. Records, a whole new audience began to discover Benson for the first time. With the 1976 release Breezin’, Benson began to put his vocal on tracks such as “This Masquerade”. He had used his vocals on songs earlier in his career, notably his rendition of “Here Comes the Sun” on the Other Side of Abbey Road album.
Benson toured with soul singer, Minnie Riperton, in 1976. Riperton had been diagnosed with terminal breast cancer earlier that year. “This Masquerade” won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year and the live take of “On Broadway”, recorded two years later from the 1978 release Weekend in L.A., also won a Grammy. Benson made it into the pop and R&B top ten with the song “Give Me the Night”, produced by Quincy Jones. On Warner Bros., Benson accumulated three other platinum LPs and two gold albums.
He also recorded the original version of “Greatest Love of All” for the 1977 Muhammad Ali bio-pic, The Greatest, which was later recorded as a cover by Whitney Houston. During this time Benson recorded with the German conductor, Claus Ogerman.
Please enjoy this video clip of George Benson performing “On Broadway” in 1998.