Photo credits: The Motown Museum
Renaldo “Obie” Benson was born in Detroit, Michigan on June 14, 1939.
Benson and Lawrence Payton went to Northern High School together, and during a birthday celebration in 1953, they met Pershing High School classmates Levi Stubbs and Abdul Fakir. With Benson on bass and Stubbs as lead vocalist, the trio began harmonizing. They put in a lot of practice time and, after debuting as The Four Aims at local occasions, caught the attention of the Chicago-based record label Chess. “Kiss Me Baby,” their debut song, was released in 1956.
To prevent confusion with the better-known vocal group, the Ames Brothers, Chess altered the quartet’s name to The Four Tops.
The Four Tops’ bouncy, pop-flavored tunes were a wonderful counterpoint to Smokey Robinson’s more nuanced, soulful compositions for Motown’s other famous male group, The Temptations. By the late 1960s, the Four Tops were mostly recording Motown-style covers of pop singles like “Walk Away Renee” by the Left Bank, “If I Were A Carpenter” by Tim Hardin, and “MacArthur Park” by Jimmy Webb.
The Four Tops stayed in Detroit and signed with the Dunhill label when Motown founder Berry Gordy transferred his firm to Los Angeles in 1972. Songs like “Keeper Of The Castle” and “Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got)” were hits for them thanks to producer-writers Dennis Lambert and Brian Potter. In 1990, The Four Tops got inducted personally by Stevie Wonder into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. In 1992, the group gave a performance at EuroDisney’s debut celebration in France.
Benson died at 69 years of age on July 1, 2005, in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan.