Born Eric Benét Jordan, 1970, in Milwaukee, WI; one brother, two sisters; children: one daugher, India, born 1992. Addresses: Home--Milwaukee, WI. Record company--Warner Brothers Records, 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91506; 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York City, NY 10019.
The music industry often uses terms like "retro-soul" or "alternative R&B" to describe the music of Eric Benét, one of a new generation of African American artists, such as D'Angelo, Maxwell, and Grammy award winner Tony Rich, who create music without the use of samples. However, Benét declines to categorize his music as alternative."The term 'alternative R&B' does kind of bug me a little bit because I feel that what we're doing is pure R&B or a closer representation," stated Benét in an interview for the Philadelphia Tribune. "I just think that for the past fifteen years or so, the masses have just been so hungry and starving for some music with some integrity, some lyrical depth and with some substance to it.... So much of what was happening then [during the 1960s and 1970s] sounds so similar to what they're calling alternative R&B. It's just a strange term."
Since his debut effort in 1996, True To Myself, followed by 1999's A Day In The Life, the young purveyor of contemporary soul ranks among the most innovative singers and songwriters of the 1990s. A musician who always remains true to the roots of R&B while adding his own modern flair, Benét said on the Warner Brothers website, "I like the idea of making music that transcends time and history. Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole: people will be playing their records 100 years from now. I hope to make music like that." And with two critically successful albums to his name thus far, Benét could likely achieve such a lofty goal.
Eric Benét Jordan, named after poet and author Stephen Vincent Benét, was born in 1970 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and continues to make his home there as an adult. Growing up in a household always filled with music, Benét, a self-taught musician, seemed destined to gravitate toward singing and songwriting. For example, instead of telling her children what to do, Benét's mother would sing her words, such as "Go and clean your roooom!," he recalled in an interview with the iMusic website. His other musical inspirations came from singing in church, as well as listening to the popular R&B artists of the 1960s and 1970s throughout his childhood. Together with his brother and two sisters, Benét displayed an interest in and obvious talent for music and harmonizing that would one day lead him to the top of the R&B charts.
In the meantime, the aspiring singer, along with his sister Lisa and cousin George Nash, Jr., an accomplished guitarist, formed a band called Benét and released their first collection of songs in 1992 on EMI Records. However, because the label was in the midst of a corporate reorganization during the time, the album went largely unnoticed. Consequently, the group felt devastated by the blow, but Benét would soon realize that a series of tragic events would prove much more difficult for him to recover from than the failure of his group.
Within an 18-month period in 1995, Benét witnessed his father's demise from cancer and endured the death of former girlfriend Tami. The young woman, also the mother of Benét's daughter India, born in 1992, suffered extensive injuries from a car accident and laid unconscious in a coma for five days until she finally passed away. Benét, torn apart emotionally by Tami's death, fell into a two-year depression. Only his daughter, at the time still a toddler, prevented him from giving up completely. "It really was the hardest thing I've ever gone through," Benét admitted to an interview with Chris Wells in Independent. "Even losing my father, as traumatic as that was, didn't hurt as much because... well, at least when we knew he was dying we all--my mom, two sisters, my brother--got the chance to say goodbye. Tami and I weren't actually together at the time she died--I was just seeing India every weekend--but the feelings of guilt, remorse, bereavement, depression just took over. Hearing India call my name when I came home from work at the end of the day felt like all I had to hang on."
Thus Benét, now a single parent, took on the responsibility of raising his daughter alone. With his music career on hold because of his mental state, he worked shifts at UPS (United Parcel Service) and helped local Milwaukee musicians record demos in the studio. Eventually, Benét started to write songs again, most of them reflecting on his recent experiences. Then, with the help of Nash and friend Demonte Posey, a keyboard player and programmer, he recorded a demo tape of three songs and sent them to Warner Brothers Records. Soon thereafter, Warner Brothers responded with an offer for a record contract.
With his enthusiasm about music restored, Benét released his debut album, True to Myself, in 1996. The album, co-produced with Nash and Posey, drew on his childhood influences, early 1970s soul musicians like Al Green, Sly Stone, and Stevie Wonder. Nonetheless, Benét managed to blend his own contemporary artistry in with the forms he borrowed from his contemporaries, earning him critical recognition for his edgier take on R&B. Moreover, whereas most R&B artists usually adhere to one particular style of music, Benét also attempts to incorporate aspects of other genres into his songs as well. "They [other artists] kind of have the same vibe throughout the whole record. With my record, on one song, I might do something a little rocky, in another song I might do something kind of Beatleish and in another song, I might do something gospel/bluesy--it's kind of hard for people to take sometimes," Benét told the Philadelphia Tribune. The record's first single, "Spiritual Thang," became a top ten hit on the R&B charts, and the single "Let's Stay Together" was featured in the Martin Lawrence film A Thin Line Between Love and Hate. The album also included a song about his late girlfriend called "While You Were Here," which tallied up the aspects of their relationship taken for granted.
Despite the success of Benét's first single, his debut effort lacked support in record sales. The young singer blamed some of the lower than expected numbers on the fact that his music did not fit in with the typical urban radio format. "Urban radio has become this thing, with so many songs sounding alike," Benét commented in the Philadelphia Tribune. "If you deviate from that then it's really hard to be accepted. If you put any other influences of any other genres of music in your particular vibe, you're not Black enough or you're selling out. I think it's a very narrow minded view of music, urban audiences have gotten so used to a certain kind of thing... everyone's doing the same runs vocally, the same kick sound, the same snare, something that's flexing creativity, throwing a couple of chord progressions in there and it's kind of hard to get embraced." Nevertheless, even without the support of radio play, the determined singer forged ahead with a world tour to promote True to Myself, drawing fans into his music wherever he traveled.
After completing his worldwide tour, Benét returned to Milwaukee to write new songs for a follow-up release. For this collection of work, he teamed with other talented writers and producers, in addition to Nash and Posey; the album featured the vocals of singer Tamia and collaborations with producers Wyclef Jean and Ali Shaheed from the rap/hip-hop group A Tribe Called Quest, as well as a duet with hip-hop artist Faith Evans for a remake of "Georgy Porgy" by the 1980s pop group Toto. After a year of arranging and recording music with producers, Benét released A Day In The Life in 1999, considered by critics as his best work to date. In addition, Warner Brothers witnessed a marked improvement in record sales over Benét's debut release. Benét himself felt A Day In The Life illustrated thathe had matured as a writer and performer, and said he took time to come up with the right body of work. The album, more grounded in classic R&B, was largely inspired by Benét's real life experiences. "I keep a journal," he said, as quoted by the Warner Brothers website. "The album title came from re-reading passages in my diary. As a songwriter, I just opened myself up to whatever came out of my heart."
Although Benét strives to achieve recognition for his music, his most important undertaking remains caring for his daughter. Therefore, he continues to live in Milwaukee so his mother can help take care of India, enabling him to record and tour. "I record in Philadelphia... Los Angeles... play all over the world, but when I get back home I like to keep all the things that surround her as calm and uneventful as possible." he said to Wells. "OK, sometimes--not often--I have just taken her out of school for a week and done lessons with her just so we could be together. But, y'see, the older she gets, the more evident it is that she's the single most important thing that's happened to me."
by Laura Hightower
Eric Benét's Career
Released debut album, True To Myself, Warner Bros. Records, (single "Spiritual Thang" became a top ten hit on the R&B charts), 1996; released album A Day In The Life, Warner Bros. Records, 1999.
- Selected discography
- True To Myself , Warner Brothers Records, 1996.
- A Day In The Life , Warner Brothers Records, 1999.
- "Let's Stay Together," Warner Brothers Records, 1996.
- "Spiritual Thang," Warner Brothers Records, 1996.
- "True To Myself" (Maxi Single), Warner Brothers Records, 1996.
- "Georgy Porgy" (Maxi Single), Warner Alliance, 1999.
- "Spend My Life With You," Warner Alliance, 1999.
- A Thin Line Between Love And Hate , Warner Brothers Records, 1996.
- Batman & Robin , Warner Brothers Records, 1997.
- Ride , Tommy Boy, 1998.
April 26, 2004: Benet's wife of three years, actress Halle Berry, filed for divorce. Source: People, May 10, 2004, p. 185.
October 2005: Benet teamed with Michael McDonald, Wynonna, and Terry Dexter and the First Full Gospel Choir to record a benefit song for Habitat for Humanity's Hurricane Katrina relief effort. Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/digest.htm, October 10, 2005.
- Dallas Morning News, March 20, 1997, p. 39A.
- Independent, April 23, 1999, p. 13.
- People, May 24, 1999, p. 41.
- Philadelphia Tribune, May 30, 1997, p. PG.
- Toronto Sun, May 9, 1999, p. S13; May 21, 1999, p. 77.
- Eric Benét--The Official Site, http://www.ericbenet.com (August 24, 1999).
- iMusic Urban Showcase, http://www.imusic.com (August 24, 1999).
- Launch: Discover New Music, http://www.launch.com (August 24, 1999).
- RollingStone.com,http://www.rollingstone.com (August 4, 1999).
- Warner Brothers Records, http://www.wbr.com (August 24, 1999).