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Ben Branch
Birth name Ben F. Branch
Born 1924
Died August 27, 1987(1987-08-27)
Genres Jazz

Ben F. Branch (1924 – August 27, 1987) was an American entrepreneur, jazz tenor saxophonist, and bandleader.

Although possibly better known as being one of the last people Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to moments before his assassination in 1968,[1] Branch had been a leading bandleader for many years.

Musical career[edit]

With his brother, Thomas, on trumpet, Branch was a member of the horn section on B.B. King's first recordings for Bullet Records in 1949. "My very first recordings were for a company out of Nashville called Bullet, the Bullet Record Transcription company," King recalls. "I had horns that very first session. I had Phineas Newborn on piano; his father played drums, and his brother, Calvin, played guitar with me. I had Tuff Green on bass, Ben Branch on tenor sax, his brother, Thomas Branch, on trumpet, and a lady trombone player."[2]

Branch recorded with King again on an early 1952 Memphis recording with the B.B. King Orchestra with, among others, Hank Crawford and Ike Turner.

For much of the 1950s, Branch was the bandleader for the houseband, The Largos, at Curry's Club in North Memphis, which occasioned a young Isaac Hayes his first professional gigs.[3][4]

Future M.G. bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn was the first white member of Branch's big band in the early 1960s.[5]

In 1982 Branch founded the American Music Hall of Fame, a private music school in Chicago.

A few months before his death Branch appeared with his band at the 1987 Chicago Blues Festival backing Rosco Gordon.[6]

Branch also recorded with Brother Jack McDuff and Etta James, Little Milton and Phil Upchurch.

Branch held a degree in music from Memphis State University.

Business career[edit]

Branch was president of Doctor Products Inc., founded in 1983, in Chicago, Illinois, the nation's only black-owned soft-drink manufacturing company. The company eventually signed a $355 million agreement with Kemmerer Bottling Group, bottler of several well-known soft drinks, including 7Up, to distribute the Doctor Products beverages.[7]

Operation Breadbasket[edit]

As musical director for the SCLC's Operation Breadbasket he led the Breadbasket Orchestra and Choir that performed benefits for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Operation/PUSH. Just moments before being assassinated, Dr. King had just asked Branch to play a Negro spiritual, "Precious Lord, Take My Hand," at a rally that was to have been held two hours later.[8]

Cannonball Adderley, in the introduction to the title track of his 1969 album Country Preacher, makes a specific mention of Branch in recognition of his work as leader of the Operation Breadbasket Orchestra and Choir.[9]

While musical director of the Breadbasket Orchestra and Operation/PUSH, he arranged for gospel singer Deleon Richards to perform at the Chicago Stadium (later the United Center).[10]



  1. ^ "Ben Branch, 59, musician and civil rights activist, died Thursday 27 in Provident Medical Center after suffering a stroke. Mr. Branch, a South Side resident, was the last person to whom Martin Luther King Jr. spoke moments before his assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. King asked Mr. Branch, a saxophonist, to play his favorite gospel song, 'Precious Lord,' at a rally later that night." Chicago Sun-Times, August 28, 1987.
  2. ^ Blues Access Interview by Wayne Robins (Spring 1999) – Accessed January 23, 2009.
  3. ^ The Memphis Sound: Lost and Found
  4. ^ Bowman, Rob Soulsville, U.S.A.: the story of Stax Records Music Sales Group, 2003 ISBN 0-8256-7284-8, ISBN 978-0-8256-7284-2 at Google Books
  5. ^ ejazznews.com
  6. ^ June 7, 1987 "Rosco Gordon with the Ben Branch Band" City of Chicago Official Tourism Site
  7. ^ Post-Tribune (IN), August 29, 1987.
  8. ^ "Martin Luther King Is Slain in Memphis; A White Is Suspected; Johnson Urges Calm" The New York Times
  9. ^ Thomas, Lorenzo & Lynn Nielsen, Aldon Don't Deny My Name: words and music and the black intellectual tradition, University of Michigan Press, 2008 ISBN 0-472-06892-X, 9780472068920 at Google Books
  10. ^ Chicago Defender Online
  11. ^ Atlantic Records discography: 1964

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263714 videos foundNext > 

Ben Branch and The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra - Precious Lord Take My Hand (1968)

Ben Branch and The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra and Choir Precious Lord Take My Hand (Album "The Last Request") Solo: Clay Evans ©1968 Chess Records (By R...

BEN BRANCH - Motherless child - CHESS

Great mod jazz gospel! Follow us on http://nutslitevenueroma.blogspot.com/

Ben Branch and The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra - Let Us Break Bread Together (1968)

Ben Branch and The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra and Choir Let Us Break Bread Together (Album "The Last Request") ©1968 Chess Records (By Request)

Ben Branch and The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra - Hard Times (1968)

Ben Branch and The Operation Breadbasket Orchestra and Choir Hard Times (Album "The Last Request") ©1968 Chess Records (By Request)


This is a super funky version of the Jackie Wilson classic. I am so digging it..........

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Ben Branch - Motherless Child

Ben Branch - Motherless Child

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74 news items

NBA.com (blog)

NBA.com (blog)
Sun, 18 Jan 2015 19:11:15 -0800

"At around 5:45 p.m., Dr. King was on the balcony," said Young, gesturing through the window outside room 306. "He was talking to Jesse Jackson and the musician Ben Branch. He was talking about this particular song that is playing now, Precious Lord, ...

NPR (blog)

NPR (blog)
Thu, 15 Jan 2015 07:56:15 -0800

The song is fatefully linked to King's last night: Right before he was shot by a vicious racist on a Memphis balcony, he called out to the saxophonist Ben Branch to play it "real pretty" at an upcoming meeting. Jackson did end up wailing the hymn at ...
Huffington Post
Tue, 04 Nov 2014 14:08:57 -0800

The Aloha State is saying goodbye to some of its homeless residents with one-way tickets to the Lower 48. According to Civil Beat, Hawaii's Institute for Human Services (IHS) is launching a $1.3 million initiative to fight homelessness, but parts of ...
Allentown Morning Call
Mon, 27 Oct 2014 22:07:27 -0700

1969—Ben Branch scores four touchdowns, two on kickoff returns, to lead Emmaus to a 47-30 win over Palmerton. Branch scores on kickoff returns of 88 and 72 yards. Contributions, subject to verification in The Morning Call's archives, can be submitted ...
Thu, 11 Dec 2014 12:48:26 -0800

After the merger, Easthampton Savings Bank plans to operate Citizens National Bank under its current name. Ben Branch, a professor of finance at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said he was somewhat surprised by the transaction. “I don't see ...

Joplin Globe

Joplin Globe
Mon, 27 Oct 2014 12:10:27 -0700

Webb City interim city administrator CArl Francis stands near a reservoir in the city's wastewater treatment plant on Friday. Under a city plan, that area will be expanded into a wetlands area named the Center Creek Valley Wetlands, where zinc deposits ...
Tifton Gazette
Sat, 27 Dec 2014 14:18:45 -0800

TIFTON—Students who achieved academic excellence in their course work during the fall term were recently recognized at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. ABAC cites its top academic students each semester on the President's List, the Dean's List, ...

CTV News

CTV News
Mon, 01 Dec 2014 05:47:58 -0800

A few months ago, he attended the opening of a Ben's branch in Virginia and quipped that he might be buried in the nearby Arlington National Cemetery -- so that his ghost wouldn't have to fly all the way to U Street for chili dogs. That street went ...

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