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July 2, 2005

'Obie' Benson, of Four Tops, Dies at 69

Detroit Times (MI):

He was the Four Top who would just not stop smiling, the life of the party, bubbling over with energy and fun. Renaldo "Obie" Benson sang bass for the Tops, for some half a century. And although friends had known for weeks that he was ailing, it was still a shock when Benson, a founding member of the Four Tops, died at 10 a.m. Friday at Harper Hospital in Detroit. He was 69.

"He had a very good heart. He always helped anyone who asked him.," said ex-wife Valaida, to whom he remained close. "And he was not a deadbeat dad. After the divorce he was still a wonderful father and loved his children very much. We were still friends through it all." "We lost another champion," said Pat Lewis of the Andantes, the vocal group that sang backup on most Four Tops songs.

As recently as April, fans could see Benson's dazzling smile on "Late Night with David Letterman" and onstage, touching audiences with his humor as he kept the bottom of the Tops' vocal mix going. Benson died of lung cancer discovered after he'd had a leg amputated several weeks ago, according to publicist Matt Lee. It's the most recent blow to what had been Motown's longest-running, intact group; Lawrence Payton died in 1997, and Levi Stubbs has been off the road, ailing, for several years.

Benson grew up in Detroit's north end, a hotbed of Detroit music. In 1953, he and friends Stubbs, Abdul "Duke" Fakir and Payton formed the Four Aims. They renamed themselves the Four Tops in 1956 to distinguish themselves from the Ames Brothers. The group toured with the Billy Eckstine Revue and played Las Vegas, as well as numerous stands at the black resort Idlewild on Michigan's west coast. After trying for years, Motown founder Berry Gordy finally was able to sign the Tops to his Detroit record label in 1964.

After that year's smash "Baby, I Need Your Loving," the Tops hit No. 1 in 1965 with "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)" and then in 1966 with "Reach Out (I'll Be There)." In 1967, they had two Top 10 hits: "Standing in the Shadows of Love" and "Bernadette."

Lewis first sang backup with the Tops on "Standing in the Shadows of Love." "He was a wonderful, wonderful guy, great sense of humor," the singer said Friday. "He will be missed. He was a good old clown onstage, just a bubbly personality. But it's God's will. He knows what's best, and Obie is no longer suffering. We still hold him in our hearts."

Through his publicist, Fakir said, "Obie loved his life and enjoyed every moment, and put a smile on everyone's face, including mine." Benson is survived by his daughters Eboni and Tobi, two granddaughters Zion and Mya, and his ex-wife Valaida. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

Posted by acapnews at July 2, 2005 12:05 AM