Belford Hendricks

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Belford Cabell "Sinky" Hendricks (May 11, 1909 – September 24, 1977) was an American composer, pianist, arranger, conductor and record producer. He used a variety of names, including Belford Hendricks, Belford Cabell Hendricks, Belford Clifford Hendricks, Sinky Hendricks, and Bill Henry.

Hendricks is primarily remembered as the co-composer of numerous soft-R&B songs of the 1950s, many in collaboration with Clyde Otis and Brook Benton, and as an accomplished arranger. His versatility allowed him to write in various styles, from big band swing for Count Basie, through blues ballads for Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, R&B-influenced pop for Benton and country and western numbers for Nat King Cole and Al Martino, to early soul for Aretha Franklin.

Early life and education[edit]

Hendricks was born in Evansville, Indiana, United States, to Frank Hendricks, a lifelong learner with an eighth-grade education, and Melissa Belle (Logan) Hendricks, a graduate of Evansville's Clark High School. He also had two siblings, Paul Lawrence and Dorothy Medesta. His love affair with music began when his father brought home a piano, quickly learning how to play additional instruments. In high school, he participated in band.

In 1924, Hendricks was graduated from the town's then-segregated Douglass High School, later rebuilt and renamed Lincoln High School. After taking several years off, working at local establishments, he enrolled at the Indiana State Teachers' College, now known as Indiana State University, in Terre Haute. Often diverted from his education for semesters at a time by a need to earn money and a desire to practice his musical craft, Hendricks road to graduation was a decade long. As well as taking jobs in local restaurants and hotels, Hendricks was able to play piano with bands in the area. In 1935, he joined the elite one percent of Black Americans with a college degree, having majored in science and music.[1]

Marriage and army service[edit]

Hendricks married Mae Etta Bean of North Vernon, Indiana, a classmate studying to become an elementary school teacher. After spending a year in Maryland, Bean returned to Indiana. They divorced in the 1940s. Bean died in the early 1960s.

Though these were considered plum jobs reserved for white people, Hendricks, with the help of relative William Fauntleroy, was one of three African American able to secure a job as a postal carrier by 1939.[1] On postal records, however, he is recorded as being white. At the height of the Great Depression, Hendricks earned nearly triple the national average income.[citation needed]

In 1938 or 1939, Duke Ellington and his orchestra recorded, "I'll Come Back for More," which appears to be the first recorded song co-written by Hendricks.[2] It was written with Ellington, Brick Fleagle, Oramay Riamond, Rex Stewart, and Bee Walker.

In 1942, Hendricks was drafted into the United States Army, serving in a medical unit. He was stationed in New York, Arizona and Hawaii. Hendricks contributed a song, "Marching Through Berlin" that was sung by Ethel Merman in the 1943 wartime movie, Stage Door Canteen.[3] Jet magazine of the 1980s shows him accompanying popular songstress Lena Horne.[4]

After the war, Hendricks returned to Indiana to care for his aging parents. During this period, he co-hosted Toast and Coffee, one of the first interracial radio programs in the US, though most listeners were unaware he was black.[5]

During this period, he became acquainted with Emma Clinton, a native of Texas, who worked for Jane Blaffer Owens, heir to the Humble Oil fortune (now known as Exxon-Mobil). The Owens family helped resettle the community of New Harmony, Indiana north of Evansville, which fell into disrepair.

New York years[edit]

Although he already was middle-aged, Hendricks decided to move to New York to pursue a full-time musical career. He continued his musical education, studying composition and organ at New York University. He knew a member of the Count Basie Orchestra and being able to play most instruments, he was able to substitute for musicians when they were ill or went on vacation.

During his early years in New York, Hendricks studied the math-based Schillinger Method of composition and arranging under Rudolph Schramm. The Schillinger Method, developed in the 1940s, is the foundation of composition education at the Berklee School of Music.

By the mid-1950s, he met Clyde Otis. In 1957, Otis accepted a job as the first black A&R man at Mercury Records and asked Hendricks to become his right hand man.

Washington and Benton[edit]

Soon after arriving in New York City, he met Dinah Washington. They enjoyed several chart hits, the most enduring being "What a Difference a Day Makes", which reached number 4 in the US Billboard R&B chart and number 8 in the US pop charts in 1959. "Unforgettable" and "This Bitter Earth" are also notable hits. Hendricks arranged and conducted nearly 100 songs for Washington from February 1959 to January 1961,[6][7][8] but today most of them are considered to be mediocre and boring,[4][9] compared to Washington's jazz/blues-oriented recordings until 1958.

Even more successful were the light-hearted duets which Hendricks arranged for Washington and Brook Benton in 1960. "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" made number 1 in the United States R&B chart and number 5 in the pop charts, earning over $1 million, whilst "A Rockin' Good Way (to Mess Around and Fall in Love)" also made number 1 in the R&B chart and number 7 in the pop chart.

Hendricks had a closer musical relationship with Benton than the one he enjoyed with Washington, for, in addition to arranging many of the popular baritone's recordings, he also co-wrote numerous songs with him, often together with Otis. The Hendricks-Otis-Benton composition "It's Just a Matter of Time", arranged by Hendricks and performed by Benton, went to number 3 in the pop chart in 1959 and became a country music standard, with new interpretations reaching number 1 in the United States country charts twice: first in 1970, sung by Sonny James, and again in 1989, courtesy of Randy Travis.

Other successful arrangements by Hendricks for Benton included "Thank You Pretty Baby", "Kiddio", and "The Boll Weevil Song".

Still at Mercury, with Sarah Vaughan[edit]

As Hendricks' stature as an arranger grew, Mercury Records paired him with Sarah Vaughan. His arrangements for her produced one minor US hit, "Smooth Operator", written by Otis with Murray Stein and some takes on older songs, such as "My Ideal", "I Should Care", Irving Berlin's "Maybe It's Because I Love You Too Much" and versions of Mack Gordon and Harry Revel's "Never in a Million Years" and Charlie Chaplin's "Eternally". The song "Broken Hearted Melody" selected by arranger Belford Hendricks for Sarah Vaughan to record became the most successful recording of her entire career with the accompanying Belford Hendricks Orchestra.

Columbia years[edit]

By 1960, Hendricks and Otis had been recruited by Columbia Records. Hendricks and Otis also took an unsuccessful crack at making Aretha Franklin a star. The team recorded dozens of tracks, including "Can't You Just See Me." By 1966, Columbia had lost about $90,000 on Franklin's recordings. However, decades after her hard-won success, those recordings were released.

Nat King Cole had already recorded some Hendricks co-compositions such as "Nothing In The World" and "Looking Back" in the late 1950s, and when he and his producers at Capitol Records decided to record "Ramblin' Rose" in 1962. The result was a worldwide hit and Hendricks was asked to submit arrangements for a full album in a similar country and western vein. When that brought more success, Hendricks arranged a follow-up Cole-meets-country album, Dear Lonely Hearts, whose title track became another singles chart hit.

With other artists[edit]

Among other stars with whom Hendricks worked were big band leaders Jimmie Lunceford and Sy Oliver, Ivory Joe Hunter, Carmen McRae, Timi Yuro, Aretha Franklin, for whom Hendricks arranged songs such as "A Mother's Love", "Runnin' Out of Fools" and his own composition, "Can't You Just See Me".

When Al Martino, whose sub-operatic singing style had gone out of fashion in the early 1960s, wanted to develop a more understated vocal technique, Nat King Cole recommended that he contact Hendricks for help. Martino duly got his desired new sound and, to go with it, his biggest hit for years - a Hendricks-arranged reworking of the country song "I Love You Because", which got to number 3 on the Billboard pop chart in 1963. A full album followed, with Hendricks at the helm.

Hendricks composed over a hundred songs, more than half of them co-written, using either a variant of his real name or his complete pseudonym, Bill Henry. As well as the compositions for other stars mentioned above, these included "Call Me", a US number 21 for Johnny Mathis in 1958 (not to be confused with the later Tony Hatch-composed song of the same name), "First Star I See Tonight" for Patti Page, "I'm Too Far Gone (to Turn Around)" for Bobby Bland and "The Mixed Up Cup" for Clyde McPhatter. Other artists to record music composed or arranged by Belford Hendricks are Nancy Wilson, Mary Wells, Della Reese, Bobby Darin, Glen Campbell, Freddie Scott, Roy Hamilton, Julie London, Brenda Lee, Charlie Pride, Tom Jones, Ruth Brown, E.J. Decker, The Beach Boys, Bobby Womack, The Four Freshmen, Garnet Mimms, Carla Thomas, Tammy Wynette, Diane Schuur, Marty Robbins, Sam Cooke, Liza Minnelli, Jack Scott, Aretha Franklin, Leslie Uggams, Ella Fitzgerald, Ace Cannon, Gregory Isaacs, B.B. King, Little Anthony and the Imperials, Elvis Presley, Carmen McRae, Duke Ellington, Teddy Pendergrass, Natalie Cole, The Drifters, The Temptations, Jerry Butler, Jimmy Smith, Dizzy Gillespie, Chubby Checker, Etta James, Randy Travis, Sonny James, Doris Day, Jackie Wilson, The Delfonics, The Four Tops, The Five Blind Boys of Alabama, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Donna Summer, Ike and Tina Turner, The Stylistics, Ricky Nelson, Ruby and The Romantics, and the long list of artist recording Belford "Sinky" Hendricks music continues. According to David Leander Williams, author, music historian, and writer of the books Indianapolis Jazz (2014) and of Indianapolis Rhythm And Blues (2019), "The name Belford Hendricks must go down in history as the greatest arranger of rhythm-and-blues hits of all times".[10]


  1. ^ a b "The Evansville Argus, 1939-08-12 :: Evansville Argus". Archived from the original on 2016-11-01. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  2. ^ "Jet - Google Books". 1980-08-21. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  3. ^ "STAGE DOOR CANTEEN". Library of Congress. 1923-09-25. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  4. ^ a b Scott Yanow. "The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 6 (1958-1960) - Dinah Washington | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  5. ^ Coures, Kelley (2007-05-30). "City's success built on achievement ... by all races". Evansville Courier & Press. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  6. ^ "Mercury Records Discography: 1959". Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  7. ^ "Mercury Records Discography: 1960". Jazz Disco. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  8. ^ "Mercury Records Discography: 1961". Jazz Disco. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  9. ^ Scott Yanow. "The Complete Dinah Washington on Mercury, Vol. 7 (1961) - Dinah Washington | Songs, Reviews, Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  10. ^ David Leander Williams (2019), Indianapolis Rhythm and Blues.

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