By Deborah Thomas
George Benson is a ten times Grammy Award winning American musician born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the age of 7, Benson was already earning a living performing at a local nightclub. He started out playing the ukulele at the age of 7 and by the age of 8, he was already playing the guitar so well.
Appreciated as both a musician and performer by millions, George Benson has always had the dual role of expert improviser and vibrant entertainer. He has consistently placed his keenly discerning art in the service of a rousing good time. Rounding out his singular approach with sly, seductive rhythm and blues, he’s earned himself an impeccable reputation as one of music’s most enterprising and engaging stars.
Few might have predicted that striking level of stardom some forty years ago, when Benson was a fledgling guitarist working the corner pubs of his native town, Pittsburgh. That’s where his yen to please a crowd was born. “I was an entertainer first,” he says proudly “As a kid I sang, danced, and played the ukulele in a nightclub. As my career has progressed, I’ve had the pleasure of playing with the baddest jazz cats on the planet. But that doesn’t change my desire to entertain folks. That’s really who I am.”
As I was getting myself ready to interview this legend, I could not help but think of all those wonderful classics such as Give Me the night, Turn Your Love around, Breezin and 20/20 vision.
Benson’s first album for Warner Bros., “Breezin,”‘ was the first album in music history to hold the number one spots on the jazz, pop and R and B charts simultaneously. “Breezin”‘ won four Grammy’s, including Record of the Year for its single “This Masquerade”. “Breezin” remains the Best Selling Jazz Album of all time, having sold in excess of six million copies worldwide. It is no surprise that such an amazing artist has lasted 4 decades of performing and appealing to different generations of fans globally. Constantly selling out concerts and still touring around the world. Looking at all his achievements to date, one can see that George Benson is a born legend.
During my interview, after the first few minutes of the pleasantries, taking in his expressive, flawless and gentle voice, I had ask him what inspired him to become a guitarist and not play any other instruments. Benson says that he did play other instruments but at the age of 7, he started with the ukulele since his fingers were too short for other instruments like the piano or the guitar. Instead he made do with the ukulele and did so well that whenever he went out with his mother she would say to him, Little Georgie play us a song. By the age of 8, when his hands were now large enough, he started playing the guitar.
As one of the most recorded jazz guitarists in modern history, Benson has worked with several Grammy award winning artists like Al Jarreau, Smokey Robinson, Herbie Hancock, Joe Sample, Sir Paul McCartney and many more. Full of passion, as can be seen by the happy expression on his face during all his live performances, watching his concerts and music videos, one can see the sheer happiness and satisfaction that oozes from him.
I have always wondered how he keeps so calm performing in front of millions of people over the years. His answer was very modest as he says that just from watching the crowd dancing and singing along gives him a feeling of satisfaction. Benson says getting this feedback from the audience makes him happy especially looking at the crowd singing and dancing to his music.
Being a legend like Benson one must keep a consistent skill at the guitar and I wondered how he keeps so good at this. As a ten times Grammy Award winner, Benson says daily practice is what gives him the constant passion to make music. Not many songs today use guitar rhythm for their songs as majority use computerized beats. Benson has mastered fusing the guitar with the lyrics of the song, making him a master guitarist.
Going through all his various song titles, one cannot help but notice some of the unusual song titles such as “Deeper Than You Think” in the album “Absolute Benson”. I curiously asked him if there was an underlining meaning to this song title. Benson chuckles talks about how he collaborated this instrumental music with Joe Sample on the piano. Benson says they both just kept fusing the entire mix of instruments so deep that they could not imagine, hence this title choice. Blending jazz with R&B and blues, Absolute Benson aims for accessibility and illustrates Benson’s virtuosity without sacrificing his commitment to the groove, the beat, and the melody.
His upcoming concert in London on the 2nd of July is a one-day affair and I asked if he had specials prepared for the show. He chuckles and talks about his love for London and that his most loyal fans are from London. Benson says he always has a great line up for his London performances and this just gets better each time. I could feel from the tone of his voice that he genuinely enjoys performing in London and he is really looking forward the concert on the 2nd of July at Kenwood House. This is definitely one to watch.