Jazz Guitarist George Benson Is 55

Today is the 55th birthday of jazz guitarist and singer George Benson.

Perhaps best known for such crossover hits as his covers of Jefferson

Airplane's "White Rabbit" and Leon Russell's "This Masquerade" and

the Quincy Jones-produced "Give Me The Night," Benson is an accomplished

jazz guitarist who has consistently found success in

R&B and pop. The influence of his efforts in mixing jazz with more

mainstream genres can be heard in the music of such artists as Earl Klugh,

Stanley Jordan and Kenny G.

Born in Pittsburgh, Benson began performing at the age of 4 and was

singing as Little Georgie Benson on local radio soon thereafter. At the

age of 8, he began studying the guitar, although he didn't play it in public until he was 15. About that time, he formed his first band, concentrating on his guitar playing while letting others take on the vocal duties. Benson moved to New York in 1965 and, with the help of his musical idol Wes Montgomery, signed to Columbia and put out a series of albums that established his reputation as a great jazz guitarist. Benson signed with Warner Bros. in 1975 and released

Breezin' a year later. Replete with Benson's first vocal efforts, Breezin' spawned "This Masquerade," the first song to hit #1 on the jazz, pop and R&B charts. Benson followed that success in the '70s and '80s with chart-toppers such as "On Broadway," "Give Me The Night" and "Turn Your Love Around."

Benson has yet to regain the crossover chart success that he enjoyed at the height of his career, but he has remained a popular figure in contemporary jazz over the years. In addition to his recorded work, Benson has toured with such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton and Freddie Hubbard. His latest, Talkin' Verve, was released in 1997.

Other birthdays: Jeremy Clyde (Chad & Jeremy), 54; Harry Vanda (Easybeats), 51; Patrick Olive (Hot Chocolate), 51; and Stephanie Mills, 41.