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George Benson hearts Nat King Cole with new album, concert

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013

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George Benson has been playing Nat King Cole's music in concert for years. But he was always hesitant to take it into the studio.

"People have been asking me to do it," notes Benson, 70, "but I said I don't want to put it on record because that means I'm competing with Nat, and nobody can compete with Nat Cole, so I gave up on that idea for a long time." But after John Burk -- who produced Benson's new "Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole" -- saw Benson's live show, he prevailed about the singer and guitar virtuoso to change his mind.

"He said, 'I think it's time for you to put it on record. People will love it,' " recalls Benson, who previously recorded a version of Cole's "Nature Boy." "So I decided maybe it wouldn't hurt. If it's no good, we can always throw it in the trash can. But it worked out fine, and I'm so very glad we did this."

"Inspiration" features 10 songs made composed or made famous by Cole, including a recording of Benson singing "Mona Lisa" when he was eight years old. Benson is joined on the project by trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and vocalists Idina Menzel and "The Voice" finalist Judith Hill, but he leaves no doubt that Cole is the real star of the project.

"I don't think of it as my own," Benson says. "I can't be a true baritone like (Cole) is, with all that silk coming off it. But most of the songs came off sounding well, and let's remember it's a [i]tribute[/i] to Nat Cole. We're not trying to out-do Nat Cole. I don't think that's possible. But we can let people be aware of how great Nat was and what a contribution he made."

George Benson performs with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 27, at the Meadow Brook Music Festival on the campus of Oakland University, Rochester Hills. Tickets are $25-$45 pavilion, $15 lawn with a $44 lawn four-pack. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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