Name originally Benjamin Franklin Peay; born September 19, 1931, in Camden, SC; died of pneumonia, April 9, 1988, in New York, NY; son of a Methodist minister; married wife, Mary, c. 1954; children: Brook, Roy, Vanessa, Gerald.

Singer-songwriter Brook Benton was one of the top performers of the early 1960s. In addition to writing hits for other famous vocalists, he gave music fans the gift of his own smooth baritone voice on popular ballads such as "It's Just a Matter of Time," "Endlessly," and "A Rainy Night in Georgia." Benton also garnered applause singing duets with famed jazz artist Dinah Washington and staged a brief comeback during the 1970s.

Benton was born Benjamin Franklin Peay in Camden, South Carolina, on September 19, 1931. His father was a Methodist minister, and Benton sang in his church as a child. His interest in gospel music continued into his teens, and he performed with local gospel groups for a time. But when he was seventeen, Benton left for New York City to try and make it in more secular music. At first he had to make his living driving trucks and washing dishes, but eventually he found work singing on demo tapes for songwriters who were trying to sell their compositions to established stars.

Benton began writing songs of his own and in 1955 formed a writing partnership with Clyde Otis. The pair made demo tapes of their compositions, with Benton providing the vocals. Benton and Otis's big break came when the legendary Nat King Cole heard their "Looking Back" and decided to record it; when it became a huge success, more business was drawn to the duo. They sold other songs to Cole as well, and wrote the smash "A Lover's Question" for rhythm-and-blues artist Clyde McPhatter. Benton and Otis also provided hits for the likes of Patti Page and Roy Hamilton.

By 1959 Benton realized that what Rolling Stone critic Anthony DeCurtis labeled his "elegant" baritone was being wasted on demo tapes. After he and Otis composed the sad but hopeful "It's Just a Matter of Time," Benton won the attention of Mercury Records, and the company signed the young vocalist. As a reporter for Ebony magazine noted, "'It's Just a Matter of Time' skyrocketed up the charts." A series of solo hits followed, including "Endlessly," "Thank You, Pretty Baby," and "So Close." Benton added to his fame when he recorded the album The Two of Us with acclaimed jazz singer Dinah Washington. Together they climbed the charts with the upbeat "Baby, You've Got What It Takes" and "A Rockin' Good Way."

Benton began to have career troubles in 1961, right after his humorous story tune "The Boll Weevil Song" gained popularity. The single was the last success he would share with Otis during that decade; the two dissolved their partnership due to what Ebony cited as "personal differences and industry pressures." Another of Benton's partnerships, that with Washington, ended with her death in 1963. That same year he suffered a severe physical beating, which Ebony linked to his refusal to perform a second show at a St. Louis club because he claimed that the orchestra there did not play his music correctly. He continued to sing in nightclubs and also tried acting for a time, but little came of it. In 1970 he managed a brief return to the spotlight with his plaintive rendition of "A Rainy Night in Georgia."

But Benton was unable to follow up on the song's success. For a period of three years Benton was not allowed to record because of contract disputes and he dropped from public attention except for club appearances and some beer commercials he did to help support himself. During the late 1970s, he contemplated a comeback, and when record companies told Benton he was too old for them to take a chance on him, he reasoned, according to Ebony, that "Bing Crosby wasn't too old, and Elvis Presley wasn't too old." He finally landed a recording contract with Olde World Records in 1978. For this company, Benton recorded Making Love Is Good for You; to his satisfaction, the single of the same title became a modest hit. He also, like many artists of his heyday, received a boost in popularity when music fans became nostalgic for the tunes of the 1950s and 1960s.

Though in 1978 Ebony predicted that Benton's comeback would be a long one, they were apparently wrong. Little else was heard from Benton, and he died of pneumonia in New York City on April 9, 1988.

by Elizabeth Wenning

Brook Benton's Career

Songwriter, vocalist. Performed with local gospel groups while a teenager; worked odd jobs as a dishwasher and truck driver in New York City during late 1940s and early 1950s; worked as a vocalist on demo tapes during early 1950s; member of songwriting partnership with Clyde Otis, 1955-61, wrote songs for Nat King Cole and Clyde McPhatter, among others; recording artist and concert performer during the 1960s and 1970s; formed singing and performing partnership with Dinah Washington, 1960-63. Appeared in beer commercials during the 1970s.

Brook Benton's Awards

Eighteen gold records.

Famous Works

Further Reading

Sources

Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 5 years ago

Brook Benton is the greatest singer of all time, bar none. I have loved his music for over 50 years ever since my late step father introduced him to our household when I was 10 years old in 1960. I still listen to his songs almost on a daily basis and have hundreds of his recordings on vinyl, CD and MP3 format. I was also blessed to see him performing live on two occassions in Scotland and hope that some day there will be an autobiography written about the great man - it is long overdue. I have many many favourite songs (did Brook ever record a bad one ?)however it's hard to beat "Fools Rush In" with those sweeping strings and Brook's majestic voice interwoven to absolute perfection. R.I.P. Baritone Supreme.

almost 6 years ago

Have recently discovered Brook Benton.Had the duos with Dinah Washington...amazing how good they were together,considering she disliked him and was a true diva! I love his mellifluous voice and am collecting his cd's now....what a tragedy to die from pneumonia!

over 6 years ago

Really appreciated his music. He made a good name for himself as being labeled one of the five top acts that people liked. He was so smooth and suave. I saw him at the Regal theater years ago with my big sister. He was totally together! He wrote several songs as well. Too bad he had to leave us. My mother loved him so.....

almost 7 years ago

Brook's voice is like warm molasses, and his easy sense of swing lets the listener feel they're right there listening to his heart. I'm hard pressed to name my favourite track - but songs like "Lie to Me" stand out, as do his duets with Dinah Washington - he easily counterbalances the Queen of the Blues and they sound perfect together. "Rainy Night in Georgia" is a perfect rendition of a great song. If I could have a dinner party with anyone living or dead, Brook would be one of my guests of honour. I'd love to hear his stories about writing and performing with other greats, working with producer Quincy Jones (who was audaciously young at the time) and I'd love just to hear the man himself, ruminating on life. Brook Benton had enduring talent, he also had soul.

almost 8 years ago

Brook Benton was truly one of the top five singers of all time. Such talent does not exist today. I enjoy his music nearly every day and still buy his Lp's.( Mostly from overseas) He is sorely missed.

about 9 years ago

We have practically all of Brook Benton's albums and still play them (long playing albums). He is still our favorite male singer. We were introduced to his beautiful voice when my husband Frank and I were visiting my family in New Zealand in I believe, 1964. As a farewell gift from a member of the family, my husband was given an album that had Endlessly on it. We returned to the U.S. by boat (Oriana) and each night, Frank would take his album to Ocean Bar and the bartender would play it and the people would crowd around to know more about this talented singer with the golden voice. When the ship docked the bartender pled with Frank to keep the album. Frank said no and we would frequent the music stores looking for another Brook Benton album. When we would hear Brook's voice on radio, our household would come to a standstill to listen to the song. The day Brook Benton's death was announced on radio, Frank was so grieved that he took the day off work. We also have his gospel album. About 3-4 years ago, Frank went to a music store looking for a stray Brook Benton album he may not have. Frank talked to the clerk about it. The clerk was fascinated that Frank was such a fan of this wonderful singer and told Frank that he too, was a lover of Brook Benton's music. In fact he told Frank that he had downloaded all his songs onto a cassette and if Frank came back the next day he would give Frank copies of the cassettes. Frank returned in in gratitude for the cassettes Frank attempted to pay him but the clerk refused because he was so proud to meet someone who appreciated Brook Benton's voice as much as he. What a shame that these God given gifted singers have been drowned out by some of the rubbish that the public and radio jockeys have allowed to replace them.

about 9 years ago

I remember hearing this song when it came out and over the years (popularized by brook Benton)"Rainy Night in Georgia"...and thinking what a beautiful song and done with such feeling. When you listen to this song, you're actually traveling through the south, in the rain and hopping a boxcar. You can actually imagine yourself there. That's shows the great quality of Benton's vocal style and talent, and shows his ability to transcend mediocrity. Through his singing style, you're able to evoke mental images of what the words of a song were meant to do. It seems to me that this great singer was not given the credit he deserved and "Rainy Night in Georgia" was a fine example of greatness...we will certainly miss the talents of brook Benton and his contributions to the musical world.

over 9 years ago

Seems unjust that strong talent such as this guy would be ignored or forgotten, while lesser acts are pushed by bored program directors and DJ's. Go figure!