Home Features Entertainment Black History NJ: George Benson

Black History NJ: George Benson

A former child prodigy once graced the 1960s jazz scene, and he’s still out cranking tunes today. Guitarist George Benson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on March 22, 1943. He was raised in the Hill District of Steel City, which is where his musical talents came to fruition. But this was only the beginning of what would become an illustrious career.

When he was 7 years old, Benson was paid to regularly play the ukulele in a corner drug store. By the next year, he spent his Friday and Saturday nights playing guitar at an unlicensed nightclub before police shut it down.

More From Best of NJ

George Benson Gets Angry

Benson recorded his very first single, “She Makes Me Mad,” under the name “Little Georgie” at just 10 years old. But the time he spent on his music quickly caught up with him; when it was discovered that his education was being negatively affected, his parents took away his guitar.

George Benson graduated from Schenley High School, and by 21, he was back to recording. That year, the talented jazz musician recorded his debut album, The New Boss Guitar, which featured distinguished organist Jack McDuff. Benson swiftly followed up with several other albums featuring a number of other popular jazz artists. In 1968, Benson even worked with renowned jazz trumpeter Miles Davis on Davis’s track “Paraphernalia.” The following year, Benson recorded a version of The Beatles’ juggernaut album Abbey Road, which was entitled The Other Side of Abbey Road.

It wasn’t until 1974’s Bad Benson that Benson’s fame grew exponentially. The album rapidly climbed the Billboard jazz chart. The two follow-up records, Good King Bad and Benson and Farrell (featuring Joe Farrell), both reached the jazz top-three sellers.

Only Getting Bigger

George BensonBy the late 1970s, Benson’s popularity skyrocketed as his workload increased. He began recording with Warner Bros. Records, which enabled a whole new audience to discover the jazz star. Benson toured with soul singer Minnie Riperton, appeared on a Stevie Wonder track, and even recorded the original version of the song “The Greatest Love of All” for the Muhammad Ali bio-pic, The Greatest.

Throughout the decades, Benson continued to enjoy a prolific music career. In 1990, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, Benson continued to tour extensively while writing and recording unparalleled jazz tunes. To this day, Benson is still actively writing and performing, and has even been awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for all of his contributions to the genre.

George Benson currently lives in Englewood with his wife of more than 50 years. Together, the couple has seven children.

To continue reading more Black History NJ stories, click here to get the complete series.

Hero (Top) Feature Image: © Jean Fortunet / Wikimedia Commons
Additional Images (in Order) Courtesy:
Jean Fortunet / Wikimedia Commons

Join our Newsletter!

Become part of the Best of NJ community and get new restaurant updates, entertainment picks, and upcoming event details delivered straight to your inbox weekly!