Here is Sweet Baby James Benton's obituary, published in The Oregonian March 4-6, 2015. You can also read the piece at the paper's website, at which you can sign the guest book and leave a remembrance.
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"Sweet James" Benton (1930 - 2016)
Beloved music icon James Benton Sweet Baby James passed away peacefully Feb. 14, 2016, from kidney failure. He passed away in home hospice care, as he wanted. James was born Aug. 7, 1930, in Crossett, Ark., to Eugene and Brooksie Benton. His father was one of many who found work during the construction of Boulder Dam. He sent for his family and James remembered living in a tent for a time in Boulder City, Nev.; later they moved to Vanport for work in the shipyards. They left before the 1948 Vanport flood, settling into their own home on Northeast Tillamook Street, just west of Williams Avenue that would become the epicenter of Portland’s thriving music scene.
James was drawn to the excitement of that scene, leaving semi-professional basketball behind for music, originally as a drummer. James was one of Portland’s last living links to its post-war days as a great jazz city. His bands included the Audios, the Frank Martin Trio and the Del-Tones. He also did a series of fair and rodeo shows with country star Bobby Bare. He converted his father-in-law’s garage on Shaver Street into The Backyard, an after-hours place for local and touring musicians to meet, socialize and play into the late night. James wrote and recorded a regional hit song, The Body, which was banned from radio because of its suggestive lyrics. After that James stayed with standards, and his own take on many tunes, combining jazz with the blues. James almost always had a day job, singing and playing music on many nights, including a long run of shows at Lake Oswego’s Beachcomber. As a foundry worker and then a Teamster, he left music behind for a spell.
In the later 1970s he bought property outside of Scappoose, where he lived since then. His business cards read Scappoose the Jazz Capital of the World. In the late 1980s, James invited two other Williams Avenue music veterans, Cleve Williams and Bobby Bradford, to join him as The Original Cats. The Cats eventually broke up, and James formed King Louie and Baby James with B-3 Hammond organ player Louis Pain. They recorded Live at the Waterfront Blues Festival in 2005 and then Around the World in 2008.
James was a truly remarkable human being. Intensely charismatic, he was old-fashioned but never old. Always hip to what was happening in music, he maintained connections with people from his earlier days. He nurtured a number of younger musicians and encouraged many a career. James had an unforgettable voice and was often described as channeling Ray Charles, especially when he sang Georgia. He didn’t leave the house for three weeks after Ray Charles died. A few years back, he finished singing Come Rain or Come Shine as one of the Ray Charles Tribute performers and turned around to see that the Oregon Symphony Orchestra had joined the audience in a standing ovation. James now has the heavenly opportunity to finally sing with Ray Charles and go fishing with lifetime friends James Bush and Raymond Proctor, who preceded him in passing.
He leaves behind his devoted wife, Cathy Galbraith Benton; daughters, Toni Lincoln, Aaliyah Hargon and Cynthia Hancock; stepchildren, Bobby Fouther and Elizabeth Fouther Branch; sister, Annette; many friends; and countless fans. Few people knew that James was very sick, he wanted to be remembered as he was in life. Burial was private. A Celebration of Life will be held soon, with local musicians who traditionally come together for the home going for one of their own, as James did many times. The date and location will be posted on his website: www.sweetbabyjamesmusic.com. His wife is establishing the Sweet Baby James Benton Fund for African American History and Music at the Oregon Community Foundation. Contributions will be welcomed soon. You can also honor James by supporting locally-owned African American businesses and going to Jimmy Maks and other clubs to support local live music.