George Benson (born March 22, 1943, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is an 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 active in the Jehovas Witnesses.
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 and attended the Connelly High School before dropping out. Benson got his first experience playing straight-ahead instrumental jazz in a several-year stint 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 with Lonnie Smith on organ and Ronnie Cuber on baritone sax. 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 1967 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.
1970s and 1980s
George Benson "Breezin'" (1976)
Title track sample from George Benson's Breezin' album
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. He was part of psychedelic soul group Harlem Underground Band during the 1970s, whose song "Smokin' Cheeba Cheeba" was featured in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
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.
Later and current career
George Benson - "This Masquerade"
Sample track from George Benson's Breezin' album (1976)
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.
George 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. Benson continues to tour the world performing over 100 shows a year.
Benson lives a private life in Arizona, where he is a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses church.
2009 saw Benson back in the studio recording a new album, with David Paich and Steve Lukather of Toto. Benson performed at the 49th issue of The Ohrid Summer Festival in Macedonia on July 25, 2009, and his Nat King Cole "Unforgettable" tour as part of the Istanbul International Jazz Festival in Turkey on July 27.