The Benny Turner Story

Non-Fiction - Autobiography
252 Pages
Reviewed on 07/07/2017
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Author Biography

I not only play the blues; I have LIVED the blues. I have seen and done so much over my more than 60 year music career, bumping shoulders with many big name performers along the way. I have also overcome a lot of pain and heartbreak to emerge a SURVIVOR, in life and in music. My story gives me the opportunity to share a window into the life of myself and my brother, the late great Freddie King, as well as so much more. I hope you will enjoy it!

    Book Review

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story by Benny Turner (with Bill Dahl) is the autobiography of blues musician Benny Turner, the younger half-brother to blues legend Freddie King. Benny’s journey begins in Texas in the sunset of 1939 with an overview of his family history, delving immediately into the lineage of his paternal grandfather, a white plantation owner. Turner tells stories of growing up, picking cotton alongside his brother, Freddie; a childhood fraught with light memories and dark scars, segregation, a poverty that necessitated eating red clay dirt when candy wasn’t affordable, hunting, and reading comic books at night with the brother he shared a bed with. The story soon grows into Benny and Freddie listening to the blues until the opportunity to earn a guitar presents itself. From Texas, the boys join the Great Migration to Chicago, where Benny found himself being bullied and the harshness of day-to-day life could be offset by moments where his world became wrapped in music.

In reading Survivor: The Benny Turner Story, it feels like Benny Turner is sitting with you as a friend at the kitchen table, sharing his history. The book is both acute and easy to read, with Turner’s voice prevalent in every word. While the subject matter is often difficult to absorb by sheer virtue of its portrayal of the author’s hardships, the writing is so comfortable that it makes even the book’s most heartbreaking moments palatable. I was unfamiliar with Benny Turner before delving into his autobiography, but now that he’s penned his life in such a vivid memoir, I’d like nothing more than to recommend readers to invite him to a place at their table, so they too can appreciate how aptly named Turner’s book is. There can be no doubt that Benny Turner is the ultimate survivor.

Romuald Dzemo

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story is a brilliant narrative, a nonfiction book that unveils the portrait of the blues legend, Benny Turner, and allows the reader to see the painful and difficult part of the singer’s life. Born in Gilmer, Texas, 125 miles east of Dallas, Benny Turner grew up in the country with his mom, father, and older brother Freddie King — one of the greatest guitarists the world has ever known — on the property of Jim Lester, for whom his father worked. I couldn’t help but think about some of the introductory lines in James Baldwin’s Fire Next Time where he presented the Negro American as sturdy, the men who built railroads and picked cotton, and some of whom have written the best poetry and composed breathtaking songs. As one reads Benny Turner’s autobiography, the theme of slavery and racism resurfaces time and again. But what is stunning is the courage and bravery, the creativity that allows the protagonist to trump over poverty and to become the author of his own destiny. In fact, this same spirit is testified in Benny’s own words: “Since we didn’t have access to a guitar, we made what was called a diddley bow to make music on.”

This is a book about surviving the odds in an unforgiving setting, but it is more than that. It is a man’s powerful and unequivocal response to adversity. In this book, we follow Benny Turner as he faces challenges, creating his path towards success in the music industry, and never giving up, even after the untimely death of the one person who meant the world to him, his older brother, Freddie King. The writing is excellent and readers will love the powerful themes that come across neatly in the writing. Readers will not only discover the core of the artist, they will equally have wonderful lessons to take away. Survivor: The Benny Turner Story is both inspirational and entertaining, an autobiography that is so delightful to read. This is a beautiful offering to fans of the artist and all blues lovers.

Gisela Dixon

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story by Benny Turner with Bill Dahl is an autobiography on the life and works of American blues musician Benny Turner. Survivor tells the long, hard, courageous journey of Benny from his childhood in the segregated South to his career as a blues musician. Benny’s story has a beginning that is in some ways shared by blacks throughout America, steeped in the rural, pre-Civil Rights movement era of Jim Crow laws and racially segregated America. Benny grew up very poor with his extended family living close by in rural Texas. Slavery was abolished by the time he was growing up, but its effects and the legacy of poverty, abuse, terror, and discrimination is evident throughout the telling of this book and is a testament to black history in America. Benny and his family move from rural Texas to urban Chicago when he is a young boy and his adjustment to life there, the influence of his brother, Freddie King, and his own career in blues is portrayed in this book.

I thought Survivor: The Benny Turner Story was a moving and authentic read. The early parts of the book that depict the degradation of slavery, of white men using black women, the oppression and terror by KKK and others, and the blatant racial injustice provide a stark contrast to the warm family ties of Benny’s own family and the grit and hope that holds them together. Benny’s voice comes across as genuine and had me turning these pages from beginning to end. Although I wasn’t very familiar with Benny Turner himself until I read this book, the material in this book is so compelling that I just wanted to know more. The numerous photographs scattered throughout the book also helped to paint a very vivid and real picture of who Benny Turner is, where he comes from, and his story.

Ray Simmons

I really enjoyed Survivor: The Benny Turner Story with Benny Turner and Bill Dahl. I enjoyed it mostly because I know the music. I enjoyed it as a boy. I read the book because I wanted to get to know a little about the man behind the music. I was not disappointed. Benny Turner played his music during an era when I was growing up, so for me it is a fascinating story. People like Benny Turner made the blues an American cultural treasure. All of us have heard the blues and its descendants -
jazz and rock and roll. But if you’re like me, you know little about the lives of the giants behind the music. Reading this book is one way to find out more about these great musicians' lives and struggles. And make no mistake, the struggles are where this haunting art form comes from.

Survivor is well written. Benny grew up in the South. It was a different part of the South that I grew up in. I grew up in Alabama. He was born in Texas. They are different in many ways, but also very similar in many ways for a black man growing up then. The plot is Benny’s life. His many struggles and his ultimate triumph. I loved the stories. I loved the characters, and I loved the history. It is the history of America. It is the history of African Americans, and it is the history of the blues. We don’t get to read about, learn, or study this history nearly enough.

Arya Fomonyuy

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story by Benny Turner and Bill Dahl is an autobiography of the music icon, the blues singer and composer, Benny Turner. This book takes the reader through the protagonist’s difficult childhood, exploring what it was like growing up in a racial setting in Gilmer, TX. Follow the protagonist as he moves to an urban setting with his family and how he honed his skills and developed a career in the Gospel, R&B, and Blues music genres. Turner’s childhood was punctuated by difficult and challenging moments, and apart from enduring the harsh conditions of poverty in East Texas and going through the kinds of struggles that Negro Americans had to face, the greatest trial came with the passing of his elder brother, band mate and best friend, Freddie King.

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story is the story of one man’s faith in his destiny, a story that explores hope and resilience, and leads readers into the joys and triumphs of a music legend. Reading this story, one understands that heroes are not born, they are made; they develop by embracing a path and staying resolutely in sync with their inner values. This autobiography is well-crafted and it features very compelling prose. The reader will love to explore the soul of the artist and to revisit an era in American history that still had the vestiges of slavery. The cultural setting of this story comes across in the narrative in a lucid and compelling manner, and readers will enjoy the social commentaries and the beautiful portrait of what a Negro family looked like in the old days. This is a story loaded with powerful lessons and insights for the reader; it is as entertaining as it is revealing of one of the ultimate virtues of humanity — resilience. In fact, the narrative reads like the blues.