George Benson first made it to the top of the pops in the 1970s, scoring multiplatinum with his smooth singing and superb musicianship.

Looking back to his earliest days, Benson seemed destined for greatness as a child prodigy. Growing up with a single mother, the young George knew he loved music but couldn’t warm up to the old piano in their living room. One day, a man came calling and told George not to touch the guitar he’d brought to serenade the boy’s mother. As soon as the man left the room, George ran to the instrument. It was then that two love affairs were born: Tom Collier became George’s stepfather and first musical mentor, and young George Benson fell hard for the guitar. Pictures from his youth show George Benson holding the instrument like a lad who was born to play.

There’s a direct line from Charlie Christian through Wes Montgomery to George Benson. Each took their blues-infused jazz to sophisticated new heights. Benson’s own path to fame involved gruelling nights on the road away from his hometown of Pittsburgh. Word of this virtuosity spread, and soon he was offered the chance to record.

With a career as vast and deep as George Benson’s, narrowing it down to five essential recordings is just scratching the surface. But if you’re looking for an entry into his repertoire, these are five fine examples of Benson’s exemplary ability to cultivate crossover appeal while still honouring the spirit of jazz.