The eventual success of Claud A. Benjamin, widely known as “Bennie Benjamin” is of exceptional significance to the Virgin Islanders as he is the first son of the land to become an outstanding composer in the United States. In accomplishing success in an arena which in the 1940s and 1950s was regarded one of the most impenetrable, he stands as an exact example for young Virgin Islanders to follow. Benjamin was born on 4th November 1907 in Christiansted on the island of St. Croix, Danish West Indies. As a result of his parents not being able to afford seminary tuition, he was forced to abandon early aspirations of becoming a minister. Due to the hard life on the Island, the family later moved to New York City in the year 1927 to improve their lives. While in New York, he studied guitar and banjo at Hy Smith’s School of Music, after which he landed on professional jobs with several lower-level orchestras and vaudeville groups. He also attended prestigious Juilliard School of Music. Eventually, he took a position at a music publishing firm, as a staff songwriter. While at the firm, in collaboration with three other songwriters: Sol Marcus, Eddie Seiler, and Eddie Durham, wrote the song “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire,” which was a major hit for the ink sports (Mount, 1). Working mostly in trio with Marcus and Seiler over the next five years, Benjamin wrote popular tunes like “Strictly Instrumental” among others
Benjamin was recruited in the U.S. Army as an ‘entertainment specialist’ on September 5, 1942, and was based at Mitchel Field in New York. Through his three years of service, he played guitar and produced camp shows. In the year 1945, Benjamin bounced into a highly productive collaboration with the renowned composer George David Weiss, which led to a quick progression of hits over the next two years. This hits were; “Oh! What It Seemed to Be” presented by Frank Sinatra, “Rumors Are Flying” performed by the Andrews Sisters, and “Confess” performed by a duet between Doris Day and Buddy Clark, among others. They also penned music for the Disney Cartoons Fun and Fancy-Free and Melody Time over 1947 to 1948. According to Whorf, (32), in 1950, Perry Como and Benjamin established a music publishing company. This consequently led to the composition of many hit songs
Benjamin rejoined with Sol Marcus in the initial 1960s and composed a couple of songs for Elvis Presley. These songs included: “I Will Be Home Again,” and “Lonely Man” the last from the film Wild in the Country. In the year 1964, jazz singer Nina Simone recorded six Compositions of Benjamin (Hughes, 45). He established his publishing company in 1968, after which he received many awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers, where he was instated into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984. Benjamin later passed on in the year 1989 at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York at the age of 81
Bennie Benjamin’s adoration for and concern in his homeland is manifested in the establishment of the Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation Medical Scholarship Program. The resolution of the initiative is to avail scholarships to train medical doctors who will commit themselves to practice medicine in the United States, Virgin Islands, and the establishment and maintenance of health care facilities which saw many scholarships awarded to several graduates, the first being Addison Craig-Chaderton of St. Thomas. In the year 2012, Bennie and Martha Benjamin Foundation representatives toured the Virgin Islands, where more than $62,000 was donated to UVI’s school of nursing in the Virgin Islands.
Whorf, Michael. American popular song composers: oral histories, 1920s-1950s. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2012. Print
Hughes, Langston. Famous Negro music makers: illustrated with photographs. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1955. Print
Mount, Andre.”Artist Biography.” Journal of the Society for American Music 7.03 (2013): 359-61. Web