It was George Benson’s 61st birthday on March 22 – but he didn’t mark the occasion.
“I’m a Jehovah’s Witness so we don’t celebrate birthdays or Christmas,” says the singer who performs at Birmingham NIA Academy next Wednesday.
“I became a Jehovah’s Witness 25 years ago and when I’m at my home on Maui in Hawaii I preach at the local Kingdom Hall.
“There are people there from all over the world and I love to meet them.
“Most of the world doesn’t agree with what we believe and we don’t force it on them but we really enjoy our faith.”
After selling 40 million albums George still has ambitions to get his music heard more widely.
“I wanted to connect with the new audience out there. When I knew there were people who hadn’t heard of me and my music I became indignant and I saw it as something of a challenge.
“I like to do different things and this allowed me to seek different avenues. I didn’t want to do smooth jazz because there’s enough of that out there.”
Instead, George turned to Urban R’n’B for his new album Irreplaceable, helped by songwriter/producer Joshua Thompson, whose magic touch has graced the albums of The Temptations, Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross, Alicia Keys and Tyrese.
He also feels a new direction will help him get back on the radio.
“Traditional jazz is my favourite but there are only ten dedicated jazz radio stations in the United States,” he says. “So if I do a jazz album no one knows it’s out.
“With my new album you’ll see me from a different point of view.”
As well as his home on Maui, George has residences in New Jersey and Phoenix, Arizona. It’s just one of the rewards for a lifetime of making music.
Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, George made his first public appearance at the age of eight, singing, dancing and playing ukelele.
By the age of 21 he had established himself as a reputable jazz guitarist but in the late 60s he joined forces with producer Creed Taylor who allowed his love of R’n’B, pop and rock to become evident in his recordings.
It was a surefire recipe for success and in 1976 the classic Breezin’ was a worldwide hit
His recordings became more vocal based and hit followed hit – The Greatest Love Of All, On Broadway, Give Me The Night and Turn Your Love Around.
Never one to rest on his laurels, George returned to classic standards and acoustic jazz in the late 80s and 90s and even experimented with jazz, collaborating with Masters at Work on You Can Do It (Baby).
Now trying his hand with urban beats George is still keen to explore new territories.
“I’d love to go to China because there’s a whole new audience there who haven’t seen me,” he reveals. “And I’d be interested in meeting them.”
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