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Profile: Brook Benton

By

Brook Benton

Brook Benton

source: hitparadehalloffame.org

Born:

Benjamin Franklin Peay, September 19, 1931, Lugoff, SC; d. April 9, 1988, Queens, New York, NY

Genres:

R&B, Pop, Pop-Soul, Adult Contemporary

Instruments:

Vocals

Contributions to music:

  • Helped bring R&B into the mainstream with his string-drenched yet soulful brand of pop
  • Possibly the most famous baritone of his day
  • An established songwriter who crafted a number of classic hits for other artists
  • His duets with Dinah Washington are among the era's sexiest
  • The bass-heavy, funnier, more emotionally deep counterpoint to singers like Nat "King" Cole

Early years:

Like many of his contemporaries, Brook Benton had his roots in gospel: the son of a choir director, he was soon harmonizing with a local South Carolina group called the Camden Jubilee Singers. By 17, Brook was in New York City, singing with The Golden Gate Quartet, the Jerusalem Stars, and the Langfordaires. The money in spiritual music was limited, however, so Benton returned home, began driving a truck, and joined an R&B group called the Sandmen. New York's legendary Okeh label signed them, but with limited success; finally, A&R man Marv Halsman changed Benjamin's name and started to promote him as a solo act.

Success:

The Sandmen had no idea "Brook" was now the featured artist on their recordings, and split up; for his part, Benton began making demos of his material for other artists. Upon signing to Mercury in the late Fifties, however, the singer's career caught fire, with 1959's "It's Just A Matter Of Time" -- Benton's own composition -- becoming a huge crossover hit. Brook ruled the pop charts through the early Sixties, sometimes with his own material, sometimes not. But as the decade wore on, black music became harder and grittier, leaving the performer a metaphorical man without a country.

Later years:

In 1970, Benton attempted a full-scale re-branding of his persona with a song by Tony Joe White, who'd just scored a hit with his own "Polk Salad Annie." The resultant single, "Rainy Night In Georgia," not only became Brook's biggest hit but also his signature song. It kept him a steady concert draw throughout the Seventies, even as he fell off the charts; an abortive attempt at a disco comeback sealed his commercial fate once and for all. In the mid-Eighties, he stopped touring due to spinal meningitis, and on April 9, 1988, he passed on from pneumonia, which his weakened system couldn't handle.

Other facts:

  • Often promoted as "The Babbling Brook"
  • The Sandmen spent some time as a backing vocal group for Chuck Willis; their early sides were arranged by Quincy Jones
  • Placed a dozen hits on the charts -- written or sung by himself -- in just one eighteen month period
  • His 1960 hit "The Boll Weevil Song" was an adaptation of an old folk-blues standard dealing with the cotton crop's greatest menace
  • His story song "Shadrack" was inspired by the Biblical tale of Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednago (Daniel 3:1-30)
  • Black activist Petey Greene's YouTube clip "How To Eat Watermelon" features Brook's 1961 hit "Think Twice"

Recorded work:

#1 hits:
R&B:
  • "It's Just A Matter Of Time" (1959)
  • "Thank You Pretty Baby" (1959)
  • "So Many Ways" (1959)
  • "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" with Dinah Washington (1960)
  • "Kiddio" (1960)
  • "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around And Fall In Love)" with Dinah Washington (1960)
  • "Rainy Night In Georgia" (1970)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "It's Just A Matter Of Time" (1959)
  • "So Many Ways" (1959)
  • "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" with Dinah Washington(1960)
  • "Kiddio" (1960)
  • "A Rockin' Good Way (To Mess Around And Fall In Love)" with Dinah Washington (1960)
  • "The Boll Weevil Song" (1961)
  • "Hotel Happiness" (1963)
  • "Rainy Night In Georgia" (1970)
R&B:
  • "Endlessly" (1958)
  • "So Close" (1959)
  • "Fools Rush In (Where Angels Fear To Tread)" (1961)
  • "For My Baby" (1961)
  • "Think Twice" (1961)
  • "The Boll Weevil Song" (1961)
  • "Lie To Me" (1962)
  • "My True Confession" (1963)
  • "I Got What I Wanted" (1963)
  • "Hotel Happiness" (1963)
Top 10 albums:
R&B:
  • Brook Benton Today (1970)
Other popular recordings: "A Million Miles From Nowhere," "The Time Of The Year," "Hurtin' Inside," "The Same One," "The Ties That Bind," "Frankie And Johnny," "It's Just A House Without You," "Hit Record," "Revenge," "Shadrack," "Still Waters Run Deep," "Walk On The Wild Side," "Two Tickets To Paradise," "Another Cup Of Coffee," "A House Is Not A Home," "Mother Nature, Father Time," "Nothing Can Take The Place Of You," "Don't It Make You Want To Go Home," "My Way," "Shoes," "Making Love Is Good For You"
Wrote or co-wrote: "The Stroll," The Diamonds; "Looking Back," Nat King Cole; "A Lover's Question," Clyde McPhatter; "I'll Take Care Of You," Roy Hamilton Covered by: Randy Travis, Clyde McPhatter, Ted Hawkins, Ray Charles, Otis Redding, Charlie Rich, Johnny Burnette, Del Reeves, Lou Rawls, Jay and the Americans, The Drifters, Ronnie McDowell, Shakin' Stevens, Bonnie Tyler, Scott Walker, Ruth Brown, Bill Medley, Sonny James, Mavis Staples, Louis Jordan, Don Gibson, Jose Feliciano, Trini Lopez, Ivory Joe Hunter, Van Morrison, Bobby Blue Bland, O.V. Wright, Etta James, Slim Harpo, Tom Jones, Elvis Presley
Appears in the movies: "Mister Rock and Roll" (1957)
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