George Benson

  • Jazz and R&B guitarist, singer and songwriter born in 1943 from Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.
  • His first paying gig was at a drug store, playing the ukulele at the age of 7 – he made a few dollars. He was playing clubs the next year, and by 9 years old, he had recorded 4 songs, 2 of which were released. At 17, he formed a rock band, but he started listening to jazz artists like Charlie Parker and he got hooked on jazz. In 1962, he met jazz organist Jack McDuff, and Benson performed with McDuff for several years, playing instrumental jazz guitar and learning his jazz technique.
  • In 1964, he released his first album, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, with the Brother Jack McDuff Quartet backing him. Most of the music was written by Benson. The following year, he was discovered by a talent scout and was signed to a major record label. Through the rest of the 60s, he released 6 more studio albums – his 1968 album Shape of Things to Come was his first to chart, reaching #9 on the Jazz chart and #38 on the R&B chart. He also contributed to recordings by many artists during this time, most notably Miles Davis’ Miles In the Sky album.
  • During the first half of the 70s, he continued to record and to collaborate with other jazz musicians, becoming a star in the jazz music community. His first #1 album on the Jazz chart was Bad Benson, released in 1974, but singles from these albums were not making the singles charts. That changed in 1976 with the release of his fifteenth studio album, Breezin’. The album topped the Billboard 200 album chart, as well as the R&B and Jazz charts, and it was certified 3x platinum. A cover of Leon Russell’s song This Masquerade was his first hit, peaking at #10 on the Hot 100 chart and at #3 on the R&B singles chart. The album led to 3 Grammy awards for Benson, including Record of the Year for This Masquerade.
  • Benson’s next 3 albums from 1977 to 1980 were all top 10 albums on the Pop and R&B charts, and all were #1 on the Jazz chart. He had hits with On Broadway (#7 on the Hot 100, #2 on the R&B chart), Love Ballad (#18 and #3 respectively) and Give Me the Night (#4 and #1 respectively). This period earned him 4 more Grammy awards in Jazz and R&B categories, for both instrumental and vocal work.
  • In fact, it was his vocal brilliance that enabled his successful crossover into pop and R&B, while he continued to excel in his guitar virtuosity. He makes every list of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time.
  • As the 80s progressed, he released 8 more studio albums, 3 of which topped the jazz album chart. He reached the top 10 on the R&B chart with 3 songs – Turn Your Love Around, Inside Love (So Personal) and Let’s Do It Again, and he won another Grammy award in 1984 for Best Pop Instrumental Performance for Being With You. He also contributed to recordings from more than 25 artists during the 80s, ranging from Aretha Franklin to Benny Goodman to Frank Sinatra to Chet Atkins to Tony Bennett.
  • By the end of the decade, no longer interested in making hits that charted, he turned to the roots of jazz, releasing Tenderly in 1989, an album of jazz standards, followed by Big Boss Band in 1990, featuring the Count Basie Orchestra. These albums allowed Benson to refocus on his jazz guitar excellence. From 1993 to today, he released 10 more studio albums – his most recent, Walking To New Orleans, was released in April 2019, and is a tribute album to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.
  • Benson’s prolific career includes 36 studio albums, 8 live albums, and 115 collaborations with other artists. He’s won 10 Grammy awards. In 2009, the National Endowment of the Arts recognized him as a Jazz Master, the nation’s highest honor in jazz. Wanna hear super smooth jazz? Watch the music video to Give Me the Night.

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