An Evening with Eric Benét
Friday, January 17 at 8 p.m.
From barefoot, dreadlocked troubadour to suave standard-bearer for contemporary R&B. Eric Benét may have changed his look, but one thing has remained consistent: his dedication to crafting authentic music that engages the soul.
“I’m not chasing any current whatevers,” says Benét, a four-time GRAMMY Award nominee. “It’s about music that gives me goose bumps and touches my soul. That’s always been a good barometer for me.”
Adds the singer about his eighth studio album, the self-titled, 13-song Benét, “When you listen to my songs, they start off with nice intros and builds. Then they slowly bring you back down to earth. I wanted to do that with this album too: take people on a journey, get their hearts jumping and feet moving before getting down to the intimate and lovely side of things.”
That musical M.O. dates back to the Milwaukee native’s early days, first as the singer for a pop group called Gerard in the late ‘80s. Later, as a founding member of the band, Benét, with his sister Lisa and cousin George Nash, Eric Benét began experimenting with all the voices he was hearing in his head. “Back then I was discovering who I was artistically,” he recalls. “I was so influenced by Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Chaka Khan, the Beatles, Queen. It was just this hodgepodge of where do I go with all of this?” Benét ultimately went straight to Warner Bros., who signed him as a solo artist in 1994. His 1996 solo debut True to Myself put both music fans and the industry on-notice.
But it was the 1999 sophomore set A Day in the Life, featuring “Georgy Porgy” as well as his first No. 1 R&B single, “Spend My Life with You” featuring Tamia, that hit home. What doubled as Benét’s career breakthrough, became a gold record that later notched his first GRAMMY nomination for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group. Since then, the singer has released five more studio albums, scored more hits including “You’re the Only One” and “Sometimes I Cry” and added three more GRAMMY nods—the most recent in 2012 for Best Traditional R&B Performance for “Sometimes I Cry.”
Beyond music, Benét is heavily involved in two charitable organizations. Mission Save Her, co-founded by him and actor/singer Reggie Benjamin, fights against the human trafficking, slavery and sexual abuse of women and girls around the world. The second, In a Perfect World (established by Benét’s wife Manuela Testolini) pushes to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy in economically poor countries like Haiti, Nicaragua and Senegal. Now in its tenth year, the organization has just built its thirtieth school and, in the process, benefited more than 30,000 children and teens around the world.
Currently celebrating the twentieth anniversary of his solo debut, Benét believes one thing accounts for his ongoing success.
“When my sister and I recorded our first album as Benét,” recalls the singer, “we had some control creatively but not all. The label put out a single and then dropped us right away. I told myself then that if I ever got the chance to do another record, I was going to have complete autonomy. That I was just going to do music that made me fall in love with music.”
In Spring 2016, Eric joined fellow contemporary R&B standard-bearers Anthony Hamilton and Lalah Hathaway for a 16-date tour. Benét relished the opportunity to keep paying it forward. “The conversation that happens between me and the audience while I’m performing compares to almost nothing. At the end of the day, my heart lives in R&B/soul. In fact, I feel like I’m just getting started.”
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