George Benson

“Benson: The Autobiography” charts the instrumentalist’s remarkable rise from the ghettos of Pittsburgh to the stages of South Africa and everywhere in between.

— Submitted photo

George Benson started his career with a ukulele strapped to his back during a slow day of selling his local newspaper on the streets of Pittsburgh. When a stranger asked him to play, bystanders gathered around the seven-year-old. He made three dollars in tips for a single song at his very first gig.

“Benson: The Autobiography” (written with Alan Goldsher; Da Capo Press; $25.99) charts the instrumentalist’s remarkable rise from the ghettos of Pittsburgh to the stages of South Africa and everywhere in between.

From his humble beginnings as a child prodigy to his unexpected rise as a jazz musician, Benson regales readers with tales of scuffling on the road with jazz legend Brother Jack McDuff, navigating his way through a recording studio with Miles Davis and emerging as the first true jazz/soul crossover artist.

The 10-time Grammy Award-winning musician and singer-songwriter rose to success utilizing a distinctive rest-stroke picking technique on guitar. Benson first came to prominence in the 1960s, and rose to the height of his fame in 1976 when the hit album “Breezin’” was certified triple-platinum on the Billboard 200 chart.

Benson, 71, has sold millions of records, performed for hundreds of millions of fans, and cut some of the most beloved jazz and soul tunes in music history. But the guitarist/vocalist is much more than “This Masquerade,” “On Broadway,” “Turn Your Love Around,” and “Give Me the Night.”

In his autobiography, Benson ponders racism’s effect on his life and art. Even in the wake of a frightening incident at a concert in apartheid-era Cape Town, South Africa that could have ended in riots and his assassination, Benson maintained a hopeful and positive outlook on race in the jazz/soul music industry.

According to fellow music legend Quincy Jones, it is a debut memoir that leaves no stones unturned.

“For as long as I’ve known him — and we’re talking [more than] 40 years — George Benson has demonstrated an uncanny ability to tell beautiful, exciting, interesting, musical stories with both his guitar and his singing, so it’s no surprise that ‘Benson: The Autobiography’ — a book that’s been a long time coming — is full of beautiful, exciting, interesting, musical stories,” said Jones.

Contact staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5747 or bbooker@phillytrib.com

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