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World-Renowned Benkó Dixieland Band’s Founder Dies At Seventy-Five

Ferenc Sullivan 2015.12.17.

Renowned Hungarian clarinet player Sándor Benkó, founder of the world-famous Benkó Dixieland Band, has passed away after a battle with liver disease on Tuesday evening at the age of seventy-five.

The Kossuth and Liszt Ferenc Prize-winning musician’s career spanned a period of close to sixty years. He  began studying music in the Forties and founded Benkó Dixieland Band, which clocked up no fewer than 1800 professional recordings, while still a high school student 1957.

The group toured the Soviet Union, Poland, Czechoslovakia and East Germany, and from the 1970s Western Europe, taking top prize at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1971 and winning the audience award in San Sebastian in 1972. Britain’s Music Week magazine elected them the stars of the year in 1976.

Benkó first learned how to play the violin, then switched to the saxophone, but became truly well known as a clarinet player.

Later, Benkó obtained a degree in electrical engineering at the Budapest University of Technology, where he taught until 1995.

He was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 2006 and also received the Hungarian Order of Merit, medium cross.

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photo: Lajos Soós/MTI