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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 house band, the Largos, at Curry's Club in North Memphis, which provided a young Isaac Hayes with 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

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Branch — Please support Wikipedia.
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138 news items

New York Daily News

New York Daily News
Mon, 04 Apr 2016 08:02:49 -0700

Mr. Jackson said he and others in the King party were getting ready for dinner. King had just bent over, he said. “If he had been standing up, he wouldn't have been hit in the face,” Jackson said. King had just said to Ben Branch, a member of his party ...

The Chicago Cusader

The Chicago Cusader
Mon, 04 Apr 2016 07:50:22 -0700

While on that balcony kidding with some of his lieutenants, Dr. King had asked sax player Ben Branch to play his favorite song, “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” Below the balcony, a young Rev. Jackson and others were waiting to go to dinner at Rev.
Newton County Times (subscription)
Tue, 12 Apr 2016 07:03:05 -0700

Sunday afternoon, Ben's Branch Church of Christ will be here, and Helen Reynolds with Helen's Music. I would like to thank each and every volunteer for coming in and doing what you do for our residents. Special thanks to Alice Cooper's class for ...

The Boston Globe

The Boston Globe
Sat, 02 Jan 2016 18:38:56 -0800

Charlie Baker understands exactly what he faces as the Republican governor of a blue state. He follows in the footsteps of establishment Republicans such as Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nelson A. Rockefeller, William F. Weld, and A. Paul Cellucci. In order to ...

Your Houston News

Your Houston News
Tue, 23 Feb 2016 13:39:30 -0800

Living History: Bens Branch Elementary students bring historical figures to life. Skylar Deen embraces her role as Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn at Ben Branch Elementary School's American Heroes Living Wax Museum on Tuesday, Feb. 23.

The Intercept

The Intercept
Thu, 11 Feb 2016 10:26:42 -0800

Ben Branch, the executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus PAC, told The Intercept that his group made the decision after a vote from its 20-member board. The board includes 11 lobbyists, seven elected officials, and two officials who work ...


Mon, 04 Apr 2016 08:36:59 -0700

Según el biógrafo Taylor Branch, y también Jesse Jackson, que estaba presente, las últimas palabras de King en el balcón fueron para el músico Ben Branch que debía actuar esa noche en el evento al que asistía King: "Ben, asegúrate de que cantas Take ...

The New Yorker

The New Yorker
Mon, 18 Jan 2016 06:37:30 -0800

He asked the saxophonist Ben Branch to play “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” at the rally that evening. As King turned to walk back into his room, a bullet struck him in the neck, taking his life instantly. Loree Bailey suffered a stroke when she heard ...

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