AFRICA — Well it speaks for itself.
MUSIC — Dedicated to my husband DOLLAR BRAND, who has inspired me and taught so much musically.
AFRICAN SONGBIRD — Dedicated to the late Duke Ellington.
"When asked to give some information about her career she replied, in a letter, with these words: "I tried hard to write about myself and music, and why I sing, and then it all just sounded too silly, so I ended up writing poems and a few other thoughts."
This statement — so it seems to me — is typical of the personality who made it: Bea Benjamin, the singer from South Africa, finds sufficient expression in music and in poetry. The following short poem can be taken as her program, so to speak:
i love to sing
i love to live
i live to love
i sing of LOVE
One is almost afraid to add more to these lines. Music and poetry speak for themselves. Any attempt at an analysis is basically a use of violence, over-powering the subject.
Bea Benjamin was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. She began her professional singing career in 1959, when she toured South Africa with the Harold Jeptah Quartet. In 1960 she joined the Dollar Brand Trio, and a year later went on tour with the Jazz Epistles, which included Dollar Brand, Kippy Moeketsi and Hugh Masekela. In 1962 she came to Switzerland with the Dollar Brand Trio, appeared at the Zurich jazz-club "Africana", sang on radio and television in Lausanne and made guest-appearances in Berne and Geneva. Later that year she moved to Scandinavia. In Denmark she made radio and T.V. appearances with the Dollar Brand Trio and did extended engagements at the "Montmarte" jazz-club in Copenhagen. She did concerts in Stockholm, Oslo and Helsinki. Duke Ellington engaged her for recordings in Paris, on the Reprise label; the tapes, on which Ellington himself as well as Billy Strayhorn can be heard, were never issued as a recording, regrettably. In 1964 Bea was a guest at the Festivals in Molde (Norway), Antibes (Riviera) and Ascona (Switzerland), and in 1965 she appeared with Ellington at the Newport Jazz Festival. With Dollar Brand she gave a concert in the old Carnegie Hall, again with Ellington there were concerts in Vermont and Maryland. Other concert and television dates, as well as appearances at U.S. Colleges, followed in 1966. In 1967/68 she was on a South African tour, with Dollar Brand. In 1970 she and Dollar Brand founded the Marimba School of Music, in Mbabane, Swaziland. With the group "Music of Universal Silence", founded by Dollar Brand and Don Cherry, she appeared in Denmark in 1972, as well as at that year's "Music Forum" in Austria. Add to this her participation in the Jazz-Vespers with Duke Ellington, in St. Peter's Church, New York, on December 24, 1972. In January 1973 she gave a concert with the Sam Rivers Quartet in New York, as well as several concerts in Switzerland.
The "New York Times" music critic, John S. Wilson, writes about the singer, who in her concerts gives preference to ballads, compositions by Duke Ellington, and spirituals: "Miss Benjamin has a soft, warm, beautifully projected voice and a quietly dramatic quality that are extremely effective in developing a song in a quiet, subdued mood". Dollar Brand, who is Bea's husband, is also one of her most frequent accompanists. She herself formulates his qualities as follows: "To work with a 'man of music' as Dollar Brand is a blessing, a challenge and always a learning experience. As an accompanist he has that very rare and extremely special gift of 'setting your soul free'." — Bruno Rub