George Benson (born March 22, 1943) is a ten Grammy Award winning American musician, whose production career began at the age of twenty-one as a jazz guitarist.
Benson first came to prominence in the 1960s playing soul jazz with the likes of Jack McDuff. Benson then launched a successful solo career, alternating between jazz, pop, R&B singing, and scat singing. 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 and continues to attract a large following today. Benson uses a rest-stroke picking technique 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, Benson first played the ukulele in a corner drug store for which he was paid a few dollars; at the age of 8, he 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'.
Benson attended the Connelly High School, although he left before graduation. As a youth, instead, he learned how to play straight-ahead instrumental jazz during a relationship performing for several years with organist Jack McDuff. At the age of 21, he recorded his first album as leader, The New Boss Guitar, featuring McDuff. Benson's next recording was It's Uptown with the George Benson Quartet including Dr Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone saxophone. Benson followed it up with The George Benson Cookbook, also with Lonnie Smith and Ronnie Cuber on baritone and drummer Marion Booker. 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.
Then, he 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. He also played on numerous sessions for other CTI artists during this time, including Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine.
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 infrequently on songs earlier in his career, notably his rendition of "Here Comes the Sun" on the Other Side of Abbey Road album. Breezin was a significant album in terms of popular music history - the first jazz release to go Platinum and the first indication that something new was about to happen, He also recorded in this album many instrumentals and notable is 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. Also in 1976, George Benson apperared as a guitarist and backup vocalist on Stevie Wonder's song "Another Star" from Wonder's album Songs In the Key of Life. 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. He has worked with Freddie Hubbard on a number of his albums throughout the '60s '70s and '80s. In 1987, at the J.V.C. Newport Jazz Festival, Benson played his heart out - it was a performance to remember, along the heavy weight line up such as Michael Brecker, Dianne Reeves and Branford Marscelis. The opening act was an unknown to some: The Gary Pearson Enselmble, which featured Gary Pearson (Guitar/Vocal) and Ruben Riera (Flautist /Percussion). 'It was a musician's dream to be part of that hi-energy line up - unforgettable,' Ruben Riera said.
The first recipient of this stellar team effort was Benson, and the Qwest label's first official release was Benson's breakthrough pop album Give Me The Night. Benson made it into the pop and R&B top ten with the song "Give Me the Night" (produced by Quincy Jones and written by former Heatwave keyboardist Rod Temperton) having previously been almost unknown to the younger audience. More importantly, Quincy Jones encouraged Benson to search his roots for further vocal inspiration and he re-discovered his love for Nat Cole, Ray Charles and Donny Hathaway in the process influencing a string of further vocal albums into the '90s. 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. 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.[
In 1985 Benson and guitarist Chet Atkins went on the smooth jazz charts with their collaboration "Sunrise", one of two songs from the duo released on Atkins' disc Stay Tuned. In 1992, Benson appeared on Jack McDuff's Colour Me Blue album. Benson toured with Al Jarreau in America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to promote their 2006 album Givin' It Up. He played during the second Monsoon Cup in Terengganu in 2006 and also Malaysia's 50th Merdeka celebration alongside Jarreau in 2007. In May 2008, for the first time Benson took part in Mawazine Festival in Morocco.
To commemorate the long term relationship between Benson and Ibanez and to celebrate 30 years of collaboration on the GB Signature Models, Ibanez created the GB30TH, a very limited edition model featuring a gold foil finish inspired by the traditional Japanese Garahaku art form. In 2009, Benson was recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts as a Jazz Master, the nations highest honor in Jazz. Benson performed at the 49th issue of The Ohrid Summer Festival in 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 a new album titled Songs and Stories, with Marcus Miller, producer John Burk, and session musicians David Paich and Steve Lukather. As a part of the promotion for his recent Concord Music Group/Monster Music release Songs and Stories, Benson has appeared and/or performed on The Tavis Smiley Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Benson has toured throughout 2010 in North America, Europe and the Pacific Rim, including an appearance at the Singapore Sun Festival. He performed at the Java Jazz Festival March 4–6, 2011.
George and his wife Johnnie have been married since 1965. George recorded a song on his That's Right CD titled "Johnnie Lee" in her honor.
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