Sathima Bea Benjamin

Sathima Bea Benjamin

Infobox Musical artist

Img_size = 150 | |
Name = Sathima Bea Benjamin
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = Beatrice Benjamin
Alias =
Born = Birth date and age|1936|10|17|mf=y
Johannesburg, South Africa
Instrument = Vocals
Genre = South African jazz, Vocal jazz, Soul jazz, Classic jazz
Occupation = Singer, composer, lyricist
Years_active = 1955-present
Label = ekapa
Associated_acts = Jean Grae, Abdullah Ibrahim, Buster Williams, Onaje Allan Gumbs
URL = []
Current_members =
Past_members =

Sathima Bea Benjamin (born 17 October 1936, Johannesburg, South Africa), is a South African vocalist and composer born in Johannesburg, raised in Cape Town, and now based in New York City.

Early life

As a youth, Sathima Bea Benjamin first performed popular music in talent contests at the local cinema (bioscope) during intermission. By the 1950s she was singing at various nightclubs, community dances and social events, performing with notable Cape Town pianists Tony Schilder and Henry February, amongst others. She built her repertoire watching British and American movies and transcribing lyrics from songs heard on the radio, where she discovered Nat King Cole, Billie Holiday, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald. These musicians would come to influence her singing style, notably in terms of light phrasing and clear diction.

At the age of 21, she joined Arthur Klugman's traveling show, Coloured Jazz and Variety, on a tour of South Africa. When the production failed, she found herself stranded in Mozambique where she met South African saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi. In 1959, she returned to Cape Town's now thriving jazz scene, where she would meet pianist Dollar Brand(aka Abdullah Ibrahim), whom she would later marry. In that same year she recorded what would have been the first jazz LP in South Africa's history. Titled "My Songs for You", with accompaniment by Ibrahim’s trio, the recording of mostly standards was never released.

harpeville Massacre and Europe

In the aftermath of South Africa’s Sharpeville Massacre of 1960, Benjamin and Ibrahim left South Africa for Europe. The couple, along with Ibrahim's trio of bassist Johnny Gertze and drummer Makhaya Ntshoko, settled in Zurich, Switzerland and worked throughout Germany and Scandinavia, meeting and occasional working with American jazz players, including Don Byas, Dexter Gordon, Kenny Drew, Ben Webster, Bud Powell, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk. The artist who would have the greatest impact on Benjamin’s life, however, was Duke Ellington.

Duke Ellington

Benjamin met Duke while he was in Zurich in 1963. Standing in the wings during most of his band’s performance, once the concert ended she insisted that Duke hear her husband’s trio at the Club Africana, where Ibrahim's band had a standing engagement. Duke obliged, but insisted that Benjamin sing for him. Following this encounter, Ellington arranged for the couple to fly to Paris and record separate albums for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label, for whom Ellington ran A&R. Ibrahim’s record, Duke Ellington Presents The Dollar Brand Trio, was released the following year and subsequently helped him build a following in Europe and the United States. Benjamin’s recording, however, remained unreleased and presumed to be lost. (The lost date was finally put out in 1996 by Enja Records, under the title "A Morning in Paris", as the session's engineer, Gerhard Lerner, had made a second copy.) The album features Benjamin performing with Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, and Abdullah performing piano on various tracks, with Johnny Gertze and Makhaya Ntshoko as bassist and drummer, respectively.

Benjamin maintained her musical relationship with Ellington. In 1965, Duke arranged to have her perform with his band in the U.S. at the Newport Jazz Festival, and at one point asked her to join his band permanently. Due to her recent marriage to Ibrahim that same year, Benjamin declined the offer.

outh Africa, America, and ekapa records

Throughout the 1960’s Benjamin and Ibrahim moved back and forth between Europe and New York City, as Ibrahim worked to establish his career. Benjamin spent much of the period as a manager and agent for her husband whilst raising their son, Tsakwe.

The year 1976 marked a turning point for Benjamin. She and Ibrahim returned to South Africa to live; she gave birth to her daughter, Tsidi (now the underground hip-hop artist Jean Grae); and went recorded "African Songbird", an album of original compositions, for South Africa's Gallo Records. Shortly after Tsidi's birth, the family relocated to New York city, to the famed Hotel Chelsea.

In 1979, Benjamin launched her own record label, ekapa rpm, to produce, publish and distribute her and Ibrahim’s music. Between 1979 and 2002, she released eight of her own albums on ekapa: "Sathima Sings Ellington", "Dedications", "Memories and Dreams", "Windsong", "Lovelight", "Southern Touch", "Cape Town Love", and "Musical Echoes".

Each of these recordings received critical acclaim for Benjamin. "Dedications" was nominated for a Grammy in 1982. Benjamin's collaborators on these albums have included saxophonist Carlos Ward, pianists Stephen Scott, Kenny Barron, Larry Willis and Onaje Allan Gumbs, bassist Buster Williams and drummers Billy Higgins and Ben Riley.

For the most part, Benjamin has used American musicians for her U.S. recordings and South African musicians when in Cape Town. Her 2002 recording, "Musical Echoes", featured American pianist Stephen Scott with two South Africans, bassist Basil Moses and drummer Lulu Gontsana.

Recent career

In October 2004, South African president Thabo Mbeki bestowed upon her the Order of Ikhamanga Silver Award in recognition for her “excellent contribution as a jazz artist” in South Africa and internationally, as well as for her contribution “to the struggle against apartheid.” And in March 2005, the art group Pen and Brush, Inc. presented her with a Certificate of Achievement for her work as a performer, musician, composer, and “activist in the struggle for human rights in South Africa.” Benjamin is featured in the March 2006 issue of "Jazztimes".

Sathima Bea Benjamin’s most recent CD, "SongSpirit", was released on October 17th in celebration of her 70th birthday. A compilation record, it includes tracks from her earlier albums, starting with "A Morning In Paris" and going through "Musical Echoes", plus a previously unreleased duet with Abdullah Ibrahim from 1973.

In 2007, Benjamin began the process of reissuing her now out-of-print back catalogue for download. "Cape Town Love", released June 19, began the process, while "A Morning in Paris" is scheduled next for reissue in October 2007 in preparation for her 71st birthday. It was released for download October 16, and will be reissued onto CD on January 22, 2008.

External links

* [ Official Site]
* [ MySpace page]
* [ AllAboutJazz Information Page]

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