George Benson was born and raised in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 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 in an unlicensed nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights, but the police soon closed the club down. At the age of 10, he recorded his first single record, “She Makes Me Mad”, with RCA-Victor in New York, under the name “Little Georgie”.
Benson attended and graduated Schenley High School. As a youth, instead, 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. 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 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.
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.
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.
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”, 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”. Breezin′ was a significant album in terms of popular music history – the first jazz release to go platinum.
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 appeared as a guitarist and backup vocalist on Stevie Wonder’s song “Another Star” from Wonder’s album Songs in the Key of Life. 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”.
During this time Benson recorded with the German conductor Claus Ogerman. 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.
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).
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 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.
Warner Bros 1985
Tracks: No One Emotion, Please Don’t Walk Away, I Just Wanna Hang Around You, Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You, Beyond The Sea, 20/20, New Day, Hold Me, Stand Up & You Are The Love Of My Life.
Musicians on the 20/20 album: George Benson, Dave Weckl, Steve Ferrone, Carlos Vega, John Robinson, Rick Schlosser, Michael Sembello, Paul Jackson, Dan Huff, Freddie Green, Cecil Womack, Randy Waldman, Clifford Carter, James Newton Howard, Joe Sample, Marcus Miller, Nathan East, Earl May, Anthony Jackson, Neil Stubenhaus, Randy Goodrum, Randy Waldman, Neil Larsen, Richard Tee, Cliff Magness, Russ Titelman, Steve Kipner, Jerry Hey, Gary Grant, Kim Hutchcroft, Gary Herbig, Paulinho Da Costa, Patti Austin, Lani Groves, Gordon Grody, Richard Marx, James Taylor, Linda Womack & Deborah Thomas.
In Your Eyes
Warner Bros 1983
Tracks: Feel Like Making Love, Inside Love (So Personal), Lady Love Me (One More Time), Love Will Come Again, In Your Eyes, Never Too Far To Fall, Being With You, Use Me, Late At Night & In Search Of A Dream.
Musicians on the In Your Eyes album: George Benson, Steve Ferrone, Leslie Ming, Jeff Porcaro, Carlos Vega, Steve Gadd, Steve Jordan, Robbie Buchanan, Kashif, Steve Porcaro, Greg Phillinganes, Will Lee, Nathan East, Anthony Jackson, Marcus Miller, Paul Jackson Jr, Ira Siegel, David Spinozza, Sammy Figueroa, Lenny Castro, George Dalto, Robbie Buchanan, Richard Tee, Jorge Dalto, Kashif, David Paich, James Newton Howard, David Sanborn, Randy Brecker, Michael Brecker, Lew Delgatto, Tom Malone, Zack Sanders, Hamish Stuart, Chaka Khan, Diva Gray & Lani Groves.
The George Benson Collection
Warner Bros 1981
Tracks: Turn Your Love Around, Love All The Hurt Away, Give Me The Night, Cast Your Fate To The Wind, Never Give Up On A Good Thing, On Broodway, White Rabbit, This Masquerade, Love Ballad, Nature Boy, Last Train To Clarksville, Livin’ Inside Your Love, Here Comes The Sun, Breezin’, Moody’s Mood, We Got The Love & The Greatest Love Of All.
Musicians on the George Benson Collection album: George Benson, Jeff Porcaro, John Robinson, Andy Newmark, Harvey Mason, Billy Cobham, Steve Ferrone, Jay Graydon, Buzzy Feiten, Lee Ritenour, Eric Gale, Steve Lukather, Phil Upchurch, Jay Berliner, Hamish Stuart, Louis Johnson, Abraham Laboriel, Gary King, Neil Stubenhaus, Stanley Banks, Ron Carter, Bobby Lyle, Ronnie Foster, Greg Phillinganes, Herbie Hancock, Bob James, Arthur Jenkins, Jay Winding, Michael Omartian, Jorge Dalto, Michael Masser, David Foster, David Paich, Richard Tee, Michael Boddicker, Gary Herbig, Eddie Daniels, Kim Hutchcroft, Larry Williams, Ronnie Cuber, Jerry Hey, Chuck Findley, Bill Reichenbach, Randy Brecker, George Young, Michael Brecker, Paulinho Da Costa, Ralph MacDonald, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Patti Austin, Bill Champlin, Vanette Gloud, Carmen Twilley, Marcy Levy, Mark Stevens & Diva Gray.
Give Me The Night
Warner Bros 1980
Tracks: Love X Love, Off Brodway, Moody’s Mood, Give Me The Night, What’s On Your Mind, Dinorah Dinorah, Love Dance, Star Of A Story, Midnight Love Affair & Turn Out The Lamplight.
Musicians on the Give Me The Night album: George Benson, John Robinson, Carlos Vega, Lee Ritenour, Louis Johnson, Abraham Laboriel, Greg Phillinganes, George Duke, Paulinho Da Costa, Kim Hutchcroft, Larry Williams, Jerry Hey, Herbie Hancock, Richard Tee, Michael Boddicker, Patti Austin, Diva Gray & Jocelyn Brown.
Livin´Inside Your Love
Warner Bros 1979
Musicians on the Livin’ Inside Your Love album: George Benson, Steve Gadd, Phil Upchurch, Earl Klugh, Will Lee, Stanley Banks, Robert Popwell, Ronnie Foster, Jorge Dalto, Greg Phillinganes & Ralph MacDonald.
Tracks: Livin’ Inside Your Love, Hey Girl, Nassau Day, Soulful Strut, Prelude To Fall, A Change Is Gonna Come, Love Ballad, You’re Never Too Far From Me, Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing, Welcome Into My World, Before You Go & Unchained Melody.
Weekend In L.A.
Warner Bros 1978
Tracks: Weekend In L.A., On Broadway, Down Here On The Ground, California P.M., The Greatest Love Of Love, It’s All In The Game, Windsong, Ode To A Kudu, Lady Blue, We All Remember Wes & We As Love.
Musicians on the Weekend In L.A. album: George Benson, Harvey Mason, Phil Upchurch, Stanley Banks, Ronnie Foster, Jorge Dalto & Ralph MacDonald.
Warner Bros 1977
Tracks: Nature Boy The Wind And I, The World Is A Ghetto, Gonna Love You More, Valdez In The Country & Everything Must Change.
Musicians on the In Flight album: George Benson, Harvey Mason, Phil Upchurch, Stanley Banks, Ronnie Foster, Jorge Dalto & Ralph MacDonald