Benjamin Franklin Peay

Brook Benton, born Benjamin Franklin Peay born on September 19, 1931, and died on April 9, 1988.

He was an American singer and songwriter who was popular with rock and roll, rhythm and blues, and pop music audiences during the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he scored hits such as “It’s Just A Matter of Time” and “Endlessly”, many of which he co-wrote.

He went in and out of gospel groups such as The Langfordaires, The Jerusalem Stars, and The Golden Gate Quartet. Returning to his home state, he joined a R&B singing group, The Sandmen, and went back to New York to get a big break with his group.

The Sandmen had limited success, and their label, Okeh Records, decided to push Peay as a solo artist, changing his name to Brook Benton, apparently at the suggestion of label executive Marv Halsman.

He enjoyed writing songs and in 1948, at age 17, he journeyed to New York City to try to sell some of them. With his gospel singing background, it was not long before he drifted in and out of gospel groups such as Bill Langford’s Spiritual Singers, the Langfordaires, the Golden Gate Quartet, and the Jerusalem Stars.

Brook returned to South Carolina and drove a truck for a while continuing his music career. He joined an R&B singing group, the Sandmen, and once again went north in search of a big break. In 1959 he broke through with a two-sided hit, It’s Just a Matter of Time, backed by endlessly.

The former reached number 3 on the pop charts and the latter number 12, and those were the first of 23 top forty hits that Brook Benton would record, either as a solo or a duet, from 1959 to 1964.

In the early 60’s the hits that he recorded kept coming. These included a string of top ten pop hits such as Kiddio, The Boll Weevil Song, and Hotel Happiness. He was prolific in issuing records that sold, one of which was Shadrack.

This record had originally been written in 1931 as Shadrack, Meshack, Abednigo and was based on a story in the Old Testament. The Boll Weevil Song was Brook’s only successful novelty song, and his highest charting song ever as it held the number two slot for three weeks in the summer of 1961.

It tells the story of a pest to cotton farmers in the South that is constantly “looking for a home.” In a 1986 review of a rare live performance by Mr. Benton in New York City, Stephen Holden wrote in The New York Times that he ”croons in a sly, subdued whisper whose emotional restraint recalls the late Nat (King) Cole.”

As the decade wore on, however, his sentimental ballad style fell out of favor with young listeners, who increasingly turned to newer rock-and-roll styles. In the mid-Eighties, he stopped touring due to spinal meningitis, and on April 9, 1988, he passed on from pneumonia, which his weakened system couldn’t handle.

He is survived by his wife, Mary; five children, Brook Jr., Vanessa, Roy, Gerald and Benjamin, all of Queens, and his mother, Maddie Peay of Lugoff.