'This is One Hill Not To Be Laughed At!'
Listen to her sing and you may think, "Toto, we're not in Nashville anymore." So just what yellow brick road did sultry singer Benita Hill follow to find her way to Music City U.S.A?
Answer: The long and winding one.
Born to singer mom Carmen Revelle, Benita Hill has the music of the late 1940’s and early 50’s in her bluesy blood. But she's also got rock’n’roll in her toes, jazz in her vocal chords and pop and Latin music in her fingertips. Lucky for Nashville, and many top recording artists, she’s also blessed with a little bit of country in her soul.
Now adopted as a hometown girl, Hill both writes and sings songs that you no doubt have sung along to at one time or another: Garth Brooks’ “Two Pina Coladas” and “It’s Your Song”; Kirk Whalum’s “The Moment I Prayed” and “I Loved You In Memphis” performed by Isaac Hayes. She has worked with producer Ben Folds on a CD of original songs by William Shatner.
Recently, Benita had a song she co-wrote with legendary Brill Building era songwriter Philip Springer (most famous for “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt and “How Little We Know” by Sinatra) premier in the New York show “The Last Songbird” in December 2005.
And though writing songs and making music ranks high on her “love-to-do” list, the platinum-haired diva is also developing a television show, likes to go to movies with her 17-year-old aspiring filmmaker son, cook, hike and count her blessings as a cancer survivor.
Chatting recently with Benita, and mentioning that she was once a background singer for the Allman Brothers, I wondered if she had any funny tales to tell about those touring days? "I was the only female in the band-my background singing partner was a guy, Keith England, who sang in really high falsetto-and they all referred to me as the “model prisoner”. Believe me, I was no Pollyanna, but compared to those road dogs I was quite tame."
For the Average Joe who may not have heard of you and was thinking of
buying your new album 'I'll See You In My Song,' how would you yourself
describe your music? "This is always a hard question to answer - I think that the songs that I write are as close to 40’s and 50’ s standard style pop tunes as songs actually written in that era, and my musical style is a torchy jazz/blues pop with the emphasis on torch."
Your album title 'I'll See You In My Song' is obviously a title close
to your heart, but perhaps it originates from a even more personal
standpoint for you? "I wrote this song with Julia Rich, girl singer with the (current incarnation of) the Glenn Miller band. We were standing in her kitchen and I had some lines “to hear Sarah sing ‘April in Paris’, to hear Chet cry a tune on his horn’…and a melody, with an idea about how one sees their own lives and relationships played out in the tune of popular song - Julia came up with the title and I swore then that I’d title an album with it."
Did you choose the various jazz and blues sounds of the 1940's and
1950's here for this new album as a tribute to your mother Carmen Revelle,
perhaps? "My mom has always been a big influence-her own musical style was eclectic. She was a big band singer but also loved straight ahead jazz and some country singers like Patsy Cline."
What memories of growing up in such a wonderful musical surrounding do
you have ... and did anyone famous ever come around to the house for some
practice sessions and end up bouncing you on their knee? "My mom’s performing heyday was actually before I was born, so I only heard the stories. When she got married and had kids she stopped performing, until her and my father were divorced. Then she went back to singing on the weekends, but mostly in local clubs in the Chicago area I used to love it when mom would take me to a club, when I was ten or eleven, and I would get to drink sodas and watch her perform with her band in her beautiful dresses. It was all so sparkling and magical."
If there was one track on 'I'll See You In My Song' that truly
encapsulated Benita Hill at her musical and lyrical finest, which one
would it be? "I came up with “The London I Remember” after a visit there almost twenty years after the first time I visited. It had changed so much, in my eyes, and I had completed most of it when I brought it to Phil Springer, my co-writer. We were stumped for how to end it and let it go for awhile. Meanwhile, the subway bombings in London happened, and by the time we got together again , it felt like the ending had been written for us. Sometimes it’s hard to wait on the completion of a song, I feel like too much thinking gets in the way to just get it done, so when I’m able to let something go and let it unfold like that, I feel like what was captured was the essence of what that song was supposed to be. I like the way the lyric and the melody turned out on that one."
Knowing that you write songs for other stars, which has been your most
successful thus far in terms of chart placement and radio play? "It’s funny, I have spent most of my writing career trying to write deep meaningful songs, and the biggest hit I had was “Two Pina Coladas” by Garth Brooks - a drinking song! It went to number one and still continues to get airplay. It’s light hearted and fun, and I guess that’s what folks like more than a song about a broken heart!"
Noting also that you are a cancer survivor, if you can please do tell
us more about the strength that can be drawn from such a devastating
disease once battled and won "It has certainly put my life in perspective. I was worried and stressed a lot before cancer, which I believe contributed to the illness. I have learned to let go of people and things that I have no control over, which was a hard lesson to learn. And if I lapse into stress or worry momentarily these days, I’ve learned how to release it-mediation, prayer and faith are my cornerstone."
On a lighter note, your name is as close as any female will ever get to
being mentioned in the same sentence as that of the late, great British
comedian Benny Hill! Has this phenomenon between your names ever been
brought up before, was your mother indeed a huge Benny Hill fan, and have
you yourself ever sat down and watched any Benny Hill TV shows?! "I love Benny Hill! In fact, I once saw him play a character in drag named Benita Hill - it freaked me out! That rerun still shows up occasionally!"
What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop/rock song would you love to cover
today if asked ... and why?! "“Don’t You Forget About Me”? I can’t even remember the band - was it Simple Minds? It was the first song that came to mind and I actually think it’s a pretty good one."
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "Me too, because they look like they’re wearing suits. But then again, who says they’re not?"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Benita's brand new CD, just answer this easy question: Benita's mom, Carmen Revelle performed with the house band at which venue in Chicago?
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before July 1st with your answer and the subject title 'BENITA HILL SIGNED CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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