Belford Hendricks

Belford Cabell “Sinky” Hendricks (May 11, 1909– September 24, 1977) was an American composer, pianist, arranger, conductor and record producer. He used a variety of names, including Belford Hendricks, Belford Cabell Hendricks, Belford Clifford Hendricks, Sinky Hendricks and Bill Henry. This was primarily to avoid competition between his own compositions at the height of his prolific career, but the result today is uncertainty about what the C in his official name really stood for – if indeed it stood for anything at all.

Hendricks is primarily remembered as the co-composer of numerous soft-R & B songs of the 1950s, many in collaboration with Clyde Otis and Brook Benton, and as an accomplished arranger, whose versatility allowed him to write in various styles, from big band swing for Count Basie, through bluesy ballads for Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan, R & B-influenced pop for Benton and country and western numbers for Nat King Cole and Al Martino, to early soul for Aretha Franklin.
Early life and education

Early Life

Hendricks was born in Evansville, Indiana, May 11, 1909 to Frank Hendricks, a lifelong learner with an eighth-grade education, and Melissa Belle (Logan) Hendricks, a graduate of Evansville’s Clark High School. He also had two siblings, Paul Lawrence and Dorothy Medesta. His love affair with music began when his father brought home a piano, quickly learning how to play additional instruments. In high school, he participated in band.

In 1924, Hendricks was graduated from the town’s then-segregated Douglass High School, later rebuilt and renamed Lincoln High School. After taking several years off, working at local establishments, he enrolled at the Indiana State Teachers’ College, now known as Indiana State University, in Terre Haute. Often diverted from his education for semesters at a time by a need to earn money and a desire to practice his musical craft, Hendricks road to graduation was a decade long. As well as taking jobs in local restaurants and hotels, Hendricks was able to play piano with bands in the area. In 1935, he joined the elite one percent of Black Americans with a college degree, having majored in science and music.

Marriage and army service

Hendricks married North Vernon, Ind., native Mae Etta Bean, a classmate studying to become an elementary school teacher. After spending a year in Maryland, Bean returned to Indiana. They divorced in the 1940s. Bean died in the early 1960s.

Though these were considered plum jobs reserved for white people, Hendricks, with the help of relative William Fauntleroy, was one of three African American able to secure a job as a postal carrier by 1939.On postal records, however, he is recorded as being white. At the height of The Great Depression, Hendricks earned nearly triple the national average income.

In 1938 or 1939, Duke Ellington and his orchestra recorded, “I’ll Come Back for More,” which appears to be the first recorded song co-written by Hendricks.It was written with Ellington, Brick Fleagle, Oramay Riamond, Rex Stewart, and Bee Walker.

In 1942, Hendricks was drafted into the U.S. Army, serving in a medical unit. He was stationed in New York, Arizona and Hawaii. Hendricks contributed a song,”Marching Through Berlin” that was sung by Ethel Merman in the 1943 wartime movie, Stage Door Canteen.A Jet magazine of the 1980s shows him accompanying popular songstress Lena Horne. Legend has it he also was photographed in a national magazine kissing American soil upon return from Hawaii.

After the war, Hendricks returned to Indiana to care for his aging parents. During this period, he co-hosted “Toast and Coffee,” one of the first interracial radio programs in the United States, though most listeners were unaware he was Black.He often went home between the morning radio program to cook, clean and run errands for his parents before working gigs at local nightclubs.

During this period, he became acquainted with Emma Clinton, a native of Texas, who worked for Jane Blaffer Owens, heir to the Humble Oil fortune. Humble now is known as Exxon-Mobil. The Owens family helped resettle the utopian community of New Harmony, Ind., north of Evansville, which fell into disrepair.

The New York Years

Hendricks quickly became a big fish in the little pond that was Evansville. Though he already was middle-aged, Hendricks decided to move to New York to pursue a full-time musical career. He continued his musical education, studying composition and organ at New York University. He knew a member of the Count Basie Orchestra and being able to play most instruments, he was able to substitute for musicians when they were ill or went on vacation.

During his early years in New York, Hendricks studied the math-based Schillinger Method of composition and arranging under Rudolph Schramm. The Schillinger Method, developed in the 1940s, is the foundation of the composition education at the Berklee School of Music.

By the mid-1950s, he met the man who was going to reshape his future. Clyde Otis, an ex-Marine with a high school education, was a self-taught musician who was working his way up the New York music scene. In 1957, he accepted a job as the first Black A and R man at Mercury Records and asked Hendricks to become his righthand man.

Dinah and Brook

With Hendricks’ talents on the radar at last, they were drawn upon more and more as the 1950s progressed.

Soon after arriving in New York, he had met Dinah Washington, then an up-and-coming vocalist. By 1958, she was an established star and she asked Hendricks to arrange and conduct. They enjoyed several chart hits, the most enduring being What a Difference a Day Makes, which reached number 4 in the United States R & B charts and number 8 in the US pop charts in 1959 and which remains well-known through TV commercials and radio airplay to this day. Unforgettable and This Bitter Earth are also notable hits. Hendricks arranged and conducted nearly 100 songs for Dinah from February 1959 to January 1961,but today most of them are considered to be mediocre and boring,compared to Dinah’s jazz/blues-oriented recordings until 1958.

Even more successful were the light-hearted duets which Hendricks arranged for Washington and Brook Benton in 1960. Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes) made number 1 in the United States R & B charts and number 5 in the US pop charts, earning over $1 million, whilst A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love) also made number 1 in the United States R & B charts and number 7 in the US pop charts. Both recordings were also notable for featuring a young Joe Zawinul on piano.

Hendricks, in fact, had an even closer musical relationship with Benton than the one he enjoyed with Washington, for, in addition to arranging many of the popular baritone’s recordings, he also co-wrote numerous songs with him, often together with Otis. The Hendricks-Otis-Benton composition It’s Just a Matter of Time, arranged by Hendricks and performed by Benton, went to number 3 in the US pop charts in 1959 and became a country music standard, with new interpretations reaching number 1 in the United States country charts twice: first in 1970, sung by Sonny James, and again in 1989, courtesy of Randy Travis. The song remains one of the most-licensed compositions of the 20th century.

Other successful arrangements by Hendricks for Benton include Thank You Pretty Baby, Kiddio, Fools Rush In and The Boll Weevil Song.

Still at Mercury, with Sarah Vaughan

As Hendricks’ stature as an arranger grew, it was inevitable that Mercury Records would pair him with one of their biggest names, Sarah Vaughan, for some of the great jazz singer’s forays onto more commercial territory. His arrangements for her produced one minor US hit, the R & B-tinged Smooth Operator, written by Otis with Murray Stein and seductively sung by “Sassy”, as well as some distinctive takes on older songs, such as My Ideal, I Should Care, Irving Berlin’s Maybe It’s Because I Love You Too Much and particularly attractive versions of Mack Gordon and Harry Revel’s Never In A Million Years and Charlie Chaplin’s Eternally.

The Columbia Years

By 1960, Hendricks and Otis had been recruited by Columbia Records, leaving behind Mercury. Hendricks and Otis also took an unsuccessful crack at making the woman who later would be known as “The Queen of Soul” a star. The team recorded dozens of tracks, including “Can’t You Just See Me.” By 1966, Columbia had lost about $90,000 on Franklin’s recordings. However, decades after her hard-won success, those recordings were released.

Still, Hendricks’ arrangements had developed a recognizable style all of their own, typically featuring short-bowed strings, set over a gently R & B-inspired beat and bassline. Nat King Cole had already recorded some Hendricks co-compositions such as Nothing In The World and the hit Looking Back in the late 1950s, and when he and his producers at Capitol Records decided to record a brand new country and western song, Ramblin’ Rose, in 1962, the Belford Hendricks sound fitted their requirements perfectly. The result was a worldwide smash hit and Hendricks was asked to submit arrangements for a full album in a similar country and western vein, also entitled Ramblin’ Rose. When that brought more success, Hendricks arranged a follow-up Cole-meets-Country album, Dear Lonely Hearts, whose title track became another singles chart hit.

With other artists

Among other stars with whom Belford Hendricks worked were big band leaders Jimmie Lunceford and Sy Oliver, early R & B great Ivory Joe Hunter, jazz diva Carmen McRae on several Mercury Records sessions and, spanning across to the 1960s generation, big-voiced Timi Yuro and soul legend Aretha Franklin, for whom Hendricks arranged songs such as A Mother’s Love, Runnin’ Out of Fools and his own composition, Can’t You Just See Me.

When Al Martino, whose sub-operatic singing style had gone out of fashion in the early 1960s, wanted to develop a more understated vocal technique, Nat King Cole recommended that he contact Hendricks for help. Martino duly got his desired new sound and, to go with it, his biggest hit for years – a Hendricks-arranged reworking of the country song I Love You Because, which got to number 3 on the Billboard pop chart in 1963. A full album followed, with Hendricks at the helm.

Hendricks composed over a hundred songs, more than half of them co-written, using either a variant of his real name or his complete pseudonym, Bill Henry. As well as the compositions for other stars mentioned above, these included Call Me, a US number 21 for Johnny Mathis in 1958 (not to be confused with the later Tony Hatch-composed song of the same name), First Star I See Tonight for Patti Page, I’m Too Far Gone (to Turn Around) for blues singer Bobby Bland and The Mixed Up Cup for another R & B trailblazer, Clyde McPhatter.

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