Born on March 22, 1943 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Benson showed prodigious talent from an early age, winning a singing contest when he was only four years old and enjoying a short career as a child radio performer under the name of “Little Georgie Benson.” He started playing the guitar when he was eight, but it was as a vocalist that he spent much of his vast musical energy as a teenager, organizing and performing with a succession of rhythm-and-blues and rock bands around Pittsburgh. He made recordings for RCA Victor’s X Records subsidiary in the middle 1950s. But Benson’s stepfather encouraged his instrumental efforts by constructing a guitar for him, and in his late teens he began to concentrate exclusively on guitar. Seeking out the music of modern jazz’s golden age, he became more and more interested in jazz, and was particularly inspired by recordings of saxophonist Charlie Parker and guitarists Charlie Christian and Grant Green.
Discovered by John Hammond: In 1961 Benson jumped to the national stage when he joined the group backing jazz organist Jack McDuff. He played and recorded with McDuff for four years. Then he struck out on his own: he moved to New York City, then the capital of the jazz universe, and formed his own band. There Benson made two acquaintances who proved crucial in setting him on the path to jazz stardom: guitarist Wes Montgomery, whose soft tone and graceful octave playing provided Benson with his most important stylistic inspiration, and Columbia Records producer and executive John Hammond, whose unerring eye for talent brought