Benny Benjamin

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Benny Benjamin
Benny Benjamin.jpg
Background information
Birth nameWilliam "Benny" Benjamin
Also known asPapa Zita
Born(1925-07-25)July 25, 1925
Birmingham, Alabama
DiedApril 20, 1969(1969-04-20) (aged 43)
Detroit, Michigan
GenresR&B, jazz
Years active1940s–1968
Associated actsThe Funk Brothers

William "Benny" Benjamin (July 25, 1925 – April 20, 1969),[1][2] nicknamed Papa Zita, was an American musician, most notable as the primary drummer for the Motown studio band known as The Funk Brothers.[3] He was a native of Birmingham, Alabama.[4]

Benjamin originally learned to play drums in the style of the big band jazz groups in the 1940s.[3][4] In 1958, Benjamin was Motown's first studio drummer, where he was noted for his dynamic style. Several Motown record producers, including Berry Gordy, refused to work on any recording sessions unless Benjamin was the drummer and James Jamerson was the bassist. The Beatles singled out Benjamin's drumming style upon meeting Gordy in the UK.[3][5] Among the Motown songs Benjamin performed the drum tracks for are early hits such as "Money (That's What I Want)" by Barrett Strong, "Shop Around" by The Miracles and "Do You Love Me" by The Contours; as well as later hits such as "Get Ready" and "My Girl" by The Temptations, "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" by Stevie Wonder, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" by Gladys Knight & the Pips, and "Going to a Go-Go" by The Miracles.

Benjamin was influenced by the work of drummers Buddy Rich and Tito Puente. He recorded with a studio set composed of Ludwig, Slingerland, Rogers and Gretsch components and probably Zildjian cymbals.[4]

By the late 1960s, Benjamin struggled with drug and alcohol addiction, and fellow Funk Brothers Uriel Jones and Richard "Pistol" Allen increasingly recorded more of the drum tracks for the studio's releases.[3][4] Benjamin died on April 20, 1969, of a stroke at age 43.[6]

Benjamin was inducted into the "Sidemen" category of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2003.[7] He was named the eleventh best drummer of all time by the Rolling Stone magazine in 2016.[5]


  1. ^ Leatherwood, Cleophus (April 27, 2005). "Benny Benjamin". Find a Grave. Find a Grave. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  2. ^ Sources are inconsistent about Benjamin's date of birth and death. This Find a Grave weblink cites Woodlawn Cemetery as the source, and seems to be the most reliable source. His date of death, April 20, 1969 correlates well with success of the song "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" charting on March 26, 1969 in the UK, as noted in the documentary film Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
  3. ^ a b c d "Benny Benjamin – Rock and Roll Hall of Fame biography (2019)". The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2003. Archived from the original on March 20, 2019. Retrieved November 22, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d "Standing in the Shadows of Motown – Bios of the Funk Brothers". Archived from the original on April 14, 2012. Retrieved November 22, 2011.
  5. ^ a b "100 Greatest Drummers of All Time". Rolling Stone. March 31, 2016. Archived from the original on July 29, 2018. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
  6. ^ Ben Sisario (March 25, 2009). "Uriel Jones, a Motown Drummer, Dies at 74". New York Times. Archived from the original on April 14, 2019. Retrieved April 28, 2019.
  7. ^ "Benny Benjamin – Rock and Roll Hall of Fame". The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 2003. Archived from the original on December 6, 2019. Retrieved December 5, 2019.

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