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Indian singer to perform at Grammy's

Indian American pop singer Reggie Benjamin will perform at the Grammy awards next month.

india Updated: Jan 04, 2006 11:58 IST

Pop singer Reggie Benjamin, the first Indian American to win a Hollywood deal, is all set to perform at the Grammy awards next month.

Benjamin, who has also filmed a music video in Hugh Heffner's fabulous Playboy Mansion, said his success was a lucky coincidence, coming as it did with an increasing American interest in Bollywood.

"Suddenly, it is cool to be Indian," Benjamin, who hails from Andhra Pradesh, told the agency.

To become a Hollywood pop singer was an unusual career choice for Benjamin who was studying to be a chemical engineer. His persistence paid off when he was signed on by music industry mogul Kerry Gordy.

But the path to success has been long and arduous. In the initial years, no one wanted to even listen to him, said Benjamin.

"After September 11, Hollywood stereotyped Indian Americans in the category 'Middle Eastern'. It was very hard," said the singer who has knocked on Hollywood doors since 1998.

"Earlier they did not even give a chance. Finally, I tried to trick them - I stopped sending my pictures along with my portfolios. It worked because my name does not give a clue to my Indian ancestry," he said.

Benjamin, the son of immigrants from Andhra Pradesh, studied music, business and chemical engineering. But his talent for show business set him on a trajectory to become a pop star.

Benjamin's choice of vocation could not have been more unconventional. His father was a Christian pastor who was especially fond of Elvis Presley's gospel songs, to which Benjamin attributes his interest in music.

"My parents always listened to Elvis' gospel music and watched his movies," recalled Benjamin. He began doing Elvis impersonations when he was eight. "I was performing live for relatives and friends for money."

On a visit to Washington, he got all his cousins together and charged them a dollar admission fee. It was his first paid performance.

Benjamin quickly graduated to performing at music concerts and at major Hollywood events. Now, he is all set to perform at the Grammy awards red carpet event Feb 8.

Over the years, Benjamin has won several distinctions in pop music. He was the first Indian to make it to the Billboard charts and has had 10 hits in a row in more than 25 countries.

But perhaps Benjamin's most spectacular coup was the shooting of his video "Hurry Up" at Hugh Heffner's Playboy Mansion. Benjamin was looking for something controversial for his new video and thought shooting at the Mansion would be sensational enough.

"I rang up Heffner's office every day for four months to seek permission to shoot. When they denied me permission to shoot inside the Mansion, I asked if I could shoot outside the gates or on the driveway. The answer was a firm no.

"Finally, one day when I called, I heard Heffner's assistant telling him, 'It is that kid again' and Heffner's reply in the background, 'Let the kid shoot his video inside the mansion.' Unexpectedly, he also allowed me to use five Playmates in the video."

On the shoot, Benjamin said: "It was quite an experience. Playboy Mansion is beautiful. One has this preconception of a house filled with girls. But when I went there for the first time there were no girls but monkeys, flamingos and parrots in the backyard, and a huge swimming pool."

Benjamin subsequently took his parents to meet Heffner.

"He was very nice," said Benjamin. "Although on the trip home, my mother kept asking me 'What exactly is Playboy'?"

The success of "Hurry up" paved the way for his second single, "Ride", which was quickly ranked number four in the Billboard Breakout Dance Charts.

Another of his albums, "Chandamama", turned out to be hugely popular with the younger generation. "It is an album anyone from eight to eighty can relate to," he said.

In Bollywood, Benjamin likes the late playback singer Kishore Kumar.

"But Hariharan is my favourite," he said.

He said he was negotiating with Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan to feature the actor in one of his music videos.

How did his parents react to his choice of career?

"Initially, they were sceptical and very worried. Like all Indian American parents, they wanted me to become a doctor, engineer or a lawyer. But they saw me on television with the likes of Steve Wonder - that is a sure sign that you have made it. And then money started coming in. That makes all the difference."

First Published: Jan 04, 2006 11:58 IST