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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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133 news items

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 ...

International Business Times

International Business Times
Sun, 17 Jan 2016 09:00:34 -0800

His last words were to musician Ben Branch: “Ben, make sure you play 'Take My Hand, Precious Lord' in the meeting tonight. Play it real pretty.” 13. People across the country rioted after his assassination. Police reportedly arrested about 27,000 ...

The Philadelphia Tribune

The Philadelphia Tribune
Thu, 14 Jan 2016 18:48:45 -0800

Ben Branch, executive director of the PAC, told the AFRO that Val Demings, a candidate for Florida's 10th congressional district, could possibly get the PAC's support. U.S. Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.), in her quest to replace retiring Sen. Barbara ...

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 ...


Wed, 03 Feb 2016 10:33:45 -0800

C'est le musicien Ben Branch qui joue quelques notes au pied de la chambre. Martin se penche et lui dit: «Eh Ben, n'oublie pas de jouer ce soir Precious Lord Take My Hand et joue-le vraiment bien.» Au même moment, on tire une balle. Elle vient se loger ...

The Boston Globe

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

In the fall of 1977, the aspiring Harvard varsity basketball players used to play pickup games every afternoon. All of us were vying for the limited spots on the team. The competition was fierce. I remember one not particularly athletic guy, less of a ...

Chicago Tribune

Chicago Tribune
Thu, 01 Oct 2015 13:15:00 -0700

Conway's career began through Operation PUSH in 1965, when she became a member of The Piperettes, led by Chicago bandleader Ben Branch, who was known as the Pied Piper. She formed the Sue Conway Victory Singers in 1988, earning international ...

Miami Herald

Miami Herald
Mon, 12 Oct 2015 17:14:54 -0700

“Doc,” someone called out from below, “this is Ben Branch. You remember Ben.” “Oh yes,” said King. “He's my man. How are ya, Ben?” Another voice yelled up from below. “Glad to see you, Doc.” As Malcolm Toussaint moved toward King, it struck him that ...

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