Obie Benson

June 14, 1936 – July 1, 2005

The bass singer for the legendary Motown vocal group, the Four Tops, Renaldo “Obie” Benson was much more than just a background singer. The Four Tops formed in the 1950s and bounced around a couple of record labels before landing with Motown in 1963 and launching a stellar stretch of hits including #1 singles “Reach Out I’ll Be There” and “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)”.

Benson acted as choreographer during the group’s early years. And the Tops’ extensive work with Motown house songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland peaked his interest as in writing songs as well.

In 1969, Benson witnessed a deadly clash between police and protestors in California and was inspired to write a song about it. He shopped the song, entitled “What’s Going On,” to other acts when his own group decided not to record it. Eventually fellow Motown artist, Marvin Gaye, recorded the song and it went on to become one of the most iconic American songs of all time.

Benson wrote other songs after that; some for the Tops and some for other groups. And he co-wrote more songs with Gaye as well. He continued performing and touring with the Four Tops until health issues sidelined him in 2005. He died later that year from lung cancer at the age of 69.

Burial

Woodlawn Cemetery – Detroit, MI

Specific Location

Section 2 – Directly south of the main office, across the road and on the north side of Section 2.

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