James E. Benton, aka “Sweet Baby James” (1930-2016) was a great Portland, Oregon vocalist. He was often referred to as “Portland’s Ray Charles,” although, importantly, James developed his soulful, sophisticated style before ever hearing Charles. This website, originally created to promote James’ career—particularly his band with organist Louis Pain (“King Louie & Baby James”)—is now dedicated to keeping James’ memory alive. Please feel free to explore it and experience the wonderful spirit of the one & only “Sweet Baby!”
A sad update: James' wonderfully supportive wife, Cathy Galbraith, passed away on November 23, 2018. Cathy was a brilliant woman with a remarkable career of her own. To learn more, here is a link.
A happier update:
On October 9, 2021, James was posthumously inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame. Fittingly, his favorite saxophonist, Renato Caranto, was inducted on the same evening--joining KL & BJ's organist Louis "King Louie" Pain, inducted a few years earlier. Renato and Louis, along with "King Louie & Baby James" drummer Micah Kassell, performed at the induction event, and their set included a soulful rendition of "You Are So Beautiful" which Renato dedicated to their late bandmate Sweet Baby James.
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"Soul shouter Sweet Baby James Benton is a human landmark of Portland jazz." --Willamette Week
"Baby James is something of a living legend in Portland's blues and jazz community." --Marty Hughley, The Oregonian
"I owe my musical career to James. He's my Godfather; he made everything happen for me. Musically, he's amazing. His phrasing, his timing, his intonation, his tone, his dramatics: they just don't make them like that anymore! If you can't play with Sweet Baby James, you can't play." --Mel Brown, legendary NW drummer
"One of the last links to Portland's Jazz Age." --The Oregonian
"Sweet Baby James is still around. As long as he can stand up, he'll be doing his thing!" --Esperanza Spalding, multiple Grammy-winning bassist, vocalist, & composer
“I've lived in Portland since 1978, but I didn't know about Sweet Baby James until Louis Pain told me about him twenty-odd years later. I thought, “Where in heaven's name did he come from?” He was under my nose the whole time! The phrasing, the sincerity, and especially the timbre of his voice. I'm completely nuts about his sound! It's like a warm blanket that surrounds you. ” --Curtis Salgado, vocalist/harmonica player (Santana, Room Full Of Blues)
"Sweet Baby James definitely was and still is one of the premier singers. He knew everyone. A lot of young musicians got their start with him." --Robert Deitsche, author of "Jumptown: the Golden Years of Portland Jazz"
"James just oozes soul; it's impossible to be in his presence without feeling good. He's one of the most charismatic people I've met." --Louis "King Louie" Pain, organist with Paul deLay, Mel Brown, etc.
"You warned me: that's a bad mother******!" --Phil Upchurch, legendary guitarist & bassist