Brook Benton Biography

Brook Benton was a very popular soul singer in the early 60's and sold many, many records for the Mercury label. He had a voice that had a very wide appeal and was also a talented songwriter.

Born Benjamin Franklin Peay in Camden, South Carolina in 1931, he became a gospel singer at a young age. While still a child he worked delivering milk in the morning and joined the Camden Jubilee Singers.

He enjoyed writing songs and in 1948, at age 17, journeyed to New York City to try to sell some of them. With his gospel singing background, it was not long before he drifted in and out of gospel groups such as Bill Langford's Spiritual Singers, the Langfordaires, the Golden Gate Quartet, and the Jerusalem Stars. Brook returned to South Carolina and drove a truck for a while while continuing his music career. He joined an R&B singing group, the Sandmen, and once again went north in search of a big break.

Brook found steady work making hundreds of demo records for such established singers as Nat "King" Cole, Clyde McPhatter, and Roy Hamilton. He co-wrote a number of songs with Clyde Otis. He first recorded under his own name for the Okeh label in 1953. Brook signed as a solo act with Epic and had his first minor hit with A Million Miles From Nowhere on Vic. He went on to Mercury along with Clyde Otis and arranger Belford Hendricks, and it was at Mercury that he would meet with his greatest success.

In 1959 he broke through with a two-sided hit, It's Just A Matter Of Time, backed by Endlessly. The former reached number 3 on the pop charts and the latter number 12, and those were the first of 23 top forty hits that Brook Benton would record, either as a solo or a duet, from 1959 to 1964.

Brook had a certain warmth in his voice that attracted a wide variety of listeners. He sang ballads that led to comparisons between Brook and such established performers as Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, and Tony Bennett. He had another top ten hit with So Many Ways, then was teamed with another emerging Mercury star, Dinah Washington. In 1960 this duo put two songs in the top ten, Baby [You've Got What It Takes] and A Rockin' Good Way [To Mess Around And Fall In Love]. Dinah was married seven times before she died from an overdose of alcohol and pills in 1963 at age 39.

Brook Benton was a talented songwriter. He had written his first two hits himself, It's Just A Matter Of Time and Endlessly. In addition, some of his other compositions would become top ten pop hits for other artists, including the Diamonds' The Stroll, Nat Cole's Looking Back, and Clyde McPhatter's A Lover's Question.

In the early 60's the hits that he recorded kept coming. These included a string of top ten pop hits such as Kiddio, The Boll Weevil Song, and Hotel Happiness. He was prolific in issuing records that sold, one of which was Shadrack. This record had originally been written in 1931 as Shadrack, Meshack, Abednigo and was based on a story in the Old Testament. The Boll Weevil Song was Brook's only successful novelty song, and his highest charting song ever as it held the number two slot for three weeks in the summer of 1961. It tells the story of a pest to cotton farmers in the South that is constantly "looking for a home."

His string of successful hits began to slow down somewhat in about 1963, although he still managed to reach the top forty with records such as I Got What I Wanted and Two Tickets To Paradise, and Going Going Gone in 1964 for Mercury. The arrival of the Beatles marked a change in taste by the record buying public. Brook began to go from label to label, recording for RCA, Reprise and Cotillion.

He managed to come back with one more top ten song in 1970 on the Cotillion label, Rainy Night In Georgia, which had been written by Tony Jo White [who had a top ten hit of his own the previous year with Polk Salad Annie]. Brook Benton remained popular as a performer, particularly in Great Britain, into the 80's. He died in New York City in 1988 of complications from spinal meningitis.

Written by Tom Simon

Born Benjamin Franklin Peay, Sept. 19, 1931 in Camden, S.C. Died April 9, 1988 in New York, N.Y.

With his satin-smooth baritone and easygoing delivery, Benton became one of the few black crooners of the 50s to successfully cross over into the pop-rock realm. Benton cut his teeth first on the gospel circuit and later with writer/producer Clyde Otis, singing and co-writing of demos for hundreds of other musicians (including Nat King Cole and Clyde McPhatter). By the late 50s, Benton was signed by Otis to Mercury, where he put his deep, rich voice to work on lushly orchestrated R&B songs. The arrangements were the perfect showcase for Benton's intimate vocal style, and he scored an impressive 21 gold records in five years. In a move typical of record labels of this period, Mercury teamed Benton with a popular female singer--his label mate Dinah Washington--whose easygoing voice meshed delightfully with Benton's. Together they scored a number of hits on the R&B charts (Baby (You've Got What It Takes),) A Rockin' Good Way) until Washington's untimely death in 1963. Benton's encore was the 1970 hit A Rainy Night in Georgia, an emotionally powerful deep-blues ballad that is the finest recording of his career. Although he never charted again, he remained a popular tour attraction into the early 80s.

Source: MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide

b. Benjamin Franklin Peay, 19 September 1931, Camden, South Carolina, USA, d. 9 April 1988.

A stylish, mellifluent singer, Benton's most ascendant period was the late 50s/early 60s. Although he began recording in 1953, Benton's first major hit came in 1959 on forging a songwriting partnership with Clyde Otis and Belford Hendricks. It's Just A Matter Of Time reached the US Top 3 and introduced a remarkable string of successes, including So Many Ways (1959), The Boll Weevil Song (1961) and Hotel Happiness (1962). Duets with Dinah Washington , Baby (You've Got What It Takes), a million-seller, and A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around And Fall In Love), topped the R&B listings in 1960. Benton's warm, resonant delivery continued to prove popular into the early 60s. A versatile vocalist, his releases encompassed standards, blues and spirituals, while his compositions were recorded by Nat 'King' Cole, Clyde McPhatter and Roy Hamilton. Brook remained signed to the Mercury label until 1964 before moving to RCA Records, then Reprise Records. Releases on these labels failed to recapture the artist's previous success, but by the end of the decade, Benton rose to the challenge of younger acts with a series of excellent recordings for Atlantic Records' Cotillion subsidiary. His languid, atmospheric version of Rainy Night In Georgia (1970) was an international hit and the most memorable product of an artistically fruitful period. Benton continued to record for a myriad of outlets during the 70s, including Brut (owned by the perfume company), Stax and MGM. Although his later work was less incisive, the artist remained one of music's top live attractions. He died in April 1988, aged 56, succumbing to pneumonia while weakened by spinal meningitis.

Encyclopedia of Popular Music Copyright Muze UK Ltd. 1989 - 1998

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