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George Benson and his band perform the hit title track from his 1976 album "Breezin."
George Benson was born on March 22, 1943 in the Hill District in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the age of 7, Benson first played the ukulele in a corner drug store, for which he was paid a few dollars. At the age of 8, he played guitar in an unlicensed nightclub on Friday and Saturday nights. At the age of 10, Benson recorded his first single record, "She Makes Me Mad," with RCA-Victor in New York, under the name Little Georgie.
Benson began his professional career as a jazz guitarist at twenty-one and first came to prominence in the 1960s, playing soul jazz with Jack McDuff and others. He then launched a successful solo career, alternating between jazz, pop, R&B singing, and scat singing. A one-time child prodigy, he topped the Billboard 200 in 1976 with the triple-platinum album, Breezin', He was a major live attraction in the UK during the 1980s, and still has a large following. Benson uses a rest-stroke picking technique similar to that of gypsy jazz players such as Django Reinhardt. He has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Miles Davis employed George Benson during the mid 1960s, featuring his guitar on "Paraphernalia" on his 1968 Columbia release, "Miles in the Sky" before going to Verve Records.
He 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.
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 infrequently on songs earlier in his career, notably his rendition of "Here Comes the Sun" on the Other Side of Abbey Road album. Breezin' was a significant album in terms of popular music history – the first jazz release to go Platinum and the first indication that something new was about to happen, He also recorded in this album many instrumentals and notable is his rendition of the 1975 Jose Feliciano composition "Affirmation". 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. "This Masquerade" won a Grammy Award for Record of the Year. 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. 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 '60s, '70s and '80s. He joined the Jehovah's Witnesses in 1979, where he is still active to date.
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. 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.
In 2009, Benson was recognized by the National Endowment of the Arts as a Jazz Master, the nations highest honor in Jazz. George Benson toured throughout 2010 in North America, Europe and the Pacific Rim, including an appearance at the Singapore Sun Festival. He performed at the Java Jazz Festival March 4–6, 2011. In 2011, Benson released the album Guitar Man—revisiting his Sixties/early-Seventies guitar-playing roots with a 12-song collection of covers of both jazz and pop standards overseen by producer John Burk.
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