Carla L. Benson
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Carla L. Benson is an American vocalist, most known for her recorded background vocals. She is considered one of the most recorded vocalists in the history of the business.
Benson grew up in South Jersey with her mother and two brothers. Eventually that core family included a step father and younger sister. Benson studied dance from the ages of 4 through 12. She attended at Sidney King School of Dance in Camden from ages 4-12. Benson developed her love of a great story and a beautiful melodic line through her mother's love of great jazz vocalists, most notably Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson, Gloria Lynn and Aretha Franklin (the Columbia Records years.) she discovered a group called Patti LaBelle and the BlueBelles and played "Down The Aisle" so often that the 45 record had to be replaced 4 times.
In Junior High, Benson joined The Walter Young Choral Ensemble. They earned an appearance on The Ted Mack Amateur Hour in New York City,at that time considered to be a monumental achievement. She entered Camden High School and began taking private voice lessons, at the insistence of her mother, from the man who would become her lifelong mentor and Father figure/friend; Dr. James Mumford, Professor Emeritus of Bloomington, Indiana.
Upon graduating from Camden High School she immediately began pursuing her College Education at Rowan University, then known as Glassboro State College, as a Music Education Major. Early in the second semester of her freshman year, she was invited to audition for a newly formed record company called Philadelphia International Records by her first cousin Barbara Ingram who called to ask her if she knew of another girl who could sing and, together, they could form a group.
Benson began her professional career singing with her first cousin Barbara, who died unexpectedly in 1994 and Evette L. Benton, her best friend from childhood with whom she was now college roommates. These women, all Camden natives, became the in-house background vocalists for Philadelphia International Records for over 10 years. They were affectionately named "The Sweethearts of Sigma" for the famous Sigma Sound Studios where they did the majority of their work by the legendary mix master Tom Moulton. The group became legendary for their sweet, angelic sound, their professionalism, their speed and accuracy in learning and recording, and their comedic antics during sessions with producers who flew in from all over the world to work with them.
Because they were never signed to an exclusive contract, the ladies were free to work as Independent Contractors for whomever they chose. As a result, they appeared on many projects outside the Phila. International stables. Benson’s crisp, clear soprano blended perfectly with Barbara's sensual 2nd soprano and Evette's solid, gospel rich bottom. They can be heard on hundreds of hits, some of them being Billy Paul's "Me and Mrs. Jones", The Spinners I'll Be Around, McFadden and Whitehead’s "Ain’t No Stopping Us Now", Evelyn "champagne King's "Shame", Patti LaBelle’s "New Attitude", "On My Own" (Patti LaBelle and Michael McDonald, to name a very few).
The Disco Phenomenon
The Disco era hit the music industry with a vengeance a few years later and The Sweeties were heavily sought after for their vocals. Precluded by confidentiality agreements from ever revealing actual artists and title songs, The Sweethearts were the actual vocalists for several major disco hits as well as the named and unnamed background vocalists for MFSB, The Salsoul Orchestra, The Ritchie Family, Grace Jones, The Trammps, The Village People, Gloria Gaynor, Claudia Berry, France Joli, Ecstasy, Passion & Pain, and hundreds of others. After the run away success of Saturday Night Fever, even John Travolta tried his hand at recording and insisted on the vocal assistance of the famed Sweethearts. (partial list of credits on AllMusic.com and Discogs).com
A New Direction
With the sudden decline of disco, the ladies were without work and decided to break up the group. Carla was approached to produce the annual fund raising event for The Dr. Charles Henderson Auxiliary, the only African American auxiliary of The Cooper University Hospital in her native Camden NJ. She wrote and directed an ensemble cast, produced and performed in her creation she named "Rhapsody in Black". That year, the auxiliary exceeded their own expectations and was able to make its largest donation to the hospital in their history. That record still stands today. Benson auditioned for and won roles in two productions of Ain't Misbehavin at The Riverfront Dinner Theater in Philadelphia, Pa..
Benson has always been a long time, hard core Patti LaBelle fan. The Sweethearts had previously recorded the background vocals for "If Only You Knew", "Love, Need and Want" as well as a few others for Miss LaBelle . In the mid-80's, when Ms. LaBelle wanted new background vocalists, she wondered if "The Girls" would be interested. The Sweethearts hadn't sung together for 3 years but, when this opportunity arose, they quickly came back together and nailed the audition. It was Instant Vocal Heaven. For the only time in the Sweethearts career, they toured and recorded exclusively with one artist; Patti LaBelle. It was Patti who renamed them "The Sweeties", the name that ultimately stuck. Ms. LaBelle fondly referred to Benson as "Sweetie Number One". It was during her tenure with Ms. LaBelle that they recorded the soundtrack for "Beverly Hills Cop" and did the popular video "Stir It Up". Patti LaBelle received her first platinum album, entitled "Winner In You" on which The Sweeties performed and graciously orchestrated the moment when her Sweeties received their platinum albums during an on air interview on the popular television show People Are Talking with Richard Bey.
Benson occasionally did substitute teaching for the Camden School system where her love of inner city teenagers began to take seed and grow.
On her own
Five years on the road was enough for Miss Benson. She had a 12-year-old son who made her realize how much she was missing by being away from him so often. She immediately decided to hang up her traveling shoes, secured an aggressive, successful agent who believed in her talent as an artist Andrea Kaufman and it was magic. Under Andrea's direction, Benson caught the attention of several Entertainment Directors for the Atlantic City casinos, and was eventually offered the opportunity to open in the main room of The Claridge Hotel and Casino. Ms. LaBelle showed her support for Benson by attending and singing a bit at the concert. The show was deemed a massive success and Benson spent the next two years performing exclusively at the Trump Casino's Special Events, and The Claridge Casino.
Tony Award Winning Writer, Joseph A. Walker, ("The River Niger") was hired to produce a series of musicals for Rutgers University. It was under his direction that Benson starred in productions of Dreamgirls, The Amen Corner, Buddy Bolden and Raisin. Before his untimely death, he was writing another musical especially for her which he hoped to have produced on Broadway. Mr. Walker’s Musical Director, Tony Booker, was instrumental in Miss Benson being signed to a five-year contract at The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC where she was featured in their annual production of Black Nativity, under the direction of Founder of the Duke Ellington School of Performing Arts School in Washington D.C.,as well as a lead role in a developing work written and directed by Tony Award winning choreographer George Faison.
In 1996, Benson graduated at the top of her class from The Technical Institute of New Jersey, Pennsauken Campus as a Certified Paralegal. She immediately began work as an Executive Legal Secretary in Arbitration in the chambers of The Honorable Judge Vogelson at The Hall of Justice in Camden. She laughingly refers to this time as proving to her that she "is a musician". (May, 1998)
In 1999, she graduated with her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Vocal Music from Rowan University. Miss Benson worked as a Permanent Substitute at Camden High School.
Standing in the shadows
In 2000, Benson was approached by her friend, Allan Slutsky, to participate in his special project that would highlight the studio musicians of Motown called "The Funk Brothers". Being a studio musician herself, this project held a particular appeal for her. Mr. Slutsky knew of Miss Benson's professional recording career and hired her to be Section Leader for the Background Vocals for the film. Benson hired her cousin Johnny Ingram to go with her, and they traveled with her brother Keith, Associate Producer for the film, to Detroit, Michigan for two weeks of rehearsals and filming. It was yet another highlight for her as she worked with artists like Gerald LeVert, whose father she'd previously worked with as a member of The O'Jays; Chaka Khan, Bootsie Collins, Ben Harper, Joan Osborne, Tom Scott and, of course the Funk Brothers themselves. The project, called "Standing in the Shadows of Motown", turned into an award winning documentary, now available on DVD, and went on to win three Grammy Awards.
Encouraged by her mother to return to the work of her heart, Benson toured the world with the infamous Funk Brothers for about three years. Due to the advanced ages of The Funk Brothers, the touring schedule was very sporadic, leaving big chunks of ‘downtime’.
Also during this time, writer John A. Jackson, approached Benson for an interview in his upcoming book, "A House on Fire", the Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul, which was released in 2005. Miss Benson is credited with the opening quote and is quoted extensively throughout this rendering, in book form, of one man's view of life at Philadelphia International Records.
Return to teaching
In 2001, Dr. Stephanie Branch offered her the position of Teacher of Music at The Charles E. Brimm Medical Arts High School in Camden. Benson and her students thrived in the classroom and no one was more surprised by this "fit" than Benson. She says, "My children need to know more than do-re-mi. They need to know they are valuable. They need to know life skills such as the importance of voting and the absolute necessity of being able to read and they must, must reconnect with their dreams and goals. I can help them do all of that, through MUSIC as I teach it" (June, 2001)
Dr. Branch thought it a plus to have a music teacher who was also a performing musician, as long as the absences were not too long in duration or frequency. After two years, Dr. Branch left to further her own career. The interim powers that remained at Brimm Medical Arts did not have Dr. Branch’s vision or understanding of a touring Musician and forced Miss Benson out. She used the time to complete the quest she’d begun so many years ago. She attended classes at the Women's Opportunity Resource Center in Philadelphia to complete her business plan and Benson's "AWAKENING’S", Inc. was born.
Benson continues to strengthen her personal relationship with God and is a Praise and Worship Leader at her church, Sword of the Spirit Christian Center. She continues to perform and has recently released two new original projects; a single called "WELCOME" and a full CD entitled, "YOU SHOULD BE HERE". Both are available at all digital outlets, Amazon, iTunes, CDBaby, etc. In November 2014, she directed and produced a Christmas video with an all Camden, NJ cast on YouTube entitled, "VOICES OF CAMDEN, FEATURING CARLA BENSON" She continues to seek funding for her "AWAKENING'S" after school program aimed at inner-city, at-risk High School youth. Her dream is to return to the stage on a more consistent basis in order to fund the program herself.
- "Carla Benson Ringleader on the Educational CyberPlayGround"
- "Carla Benson's Personal Message to Children"
- "K-12 Standing in the Shadows of Motown WebQuest"
- "Carla Benson Collects Children's Music for the National Children's Folksong Repository"
- An interview with Carla Benson at Soul Express in December 2014
- Standing in the Shadows of Motown DVD
- A House on Fire by John A. Jackson