Singer/songwriter Brook Benton was born Benjamin Franklin Peay in 1931 in Camden, S.C. As a young person, he enjoyed gospel music, wrote songs, and sang in a Methodist church choir in Lugoff where his father, Willie Peay, was choir master.
Benton was a member of the Camden Jubilee Singers while still a child working to deliver milk in the mornings. He moved to New York City in 1948 at age 17 to follow his dream of being a songwriter. Eventually moving back to South Carolina, Benton drove a truck for a short time then joined the R&B singing group The Sandmen, upon his return to New York in search of a big break. He changed his name to Brook Benton at the suggestion of his record label and found a successful career co-producing records, songwriting, and making demos with artists such as Nat ‘King’ Cole, Clyde McPhatter, and Roy Hamilton. He first recorded under his own name in 1953.
Benton’s breakthrough was in 1959 with his chart-topping hit “It’s Just a Matter of Time,” which peaked at #3, and “Endlessly,” which went to #12 on the Billboard charts. Those were the first of 23 Top 40 hits Benton recorded either as a solo or a duet from 1959 to 1964. Benton eventually saw 49 singles on the Billboard Hot 100, with other songs charting on Billboard’s rhythm and blues, easy listening, and Christmas music charts. Benton hit the Top 10 one final time in 1970 with a version of “Rainy Night in Georgia.” He remained a popular concert performer in the U.S. and Great Britain throughout the 1980s.
Benton died in 1988 in New York City leaving behind his wife Mary and children Brook Jr., Vanessa, Roy, and Gerald. He is remembered as a humanitarian who was always helping others.
Presented through a partnership between the South Carolina Department of Education and South Carolina ETV.
View the series on KnowItAll.org here.
Download the SC African American History Calendar here.