Jazz drummer Benny Medina, a Dallas native who now lives in Oak Cliff, performs at Wilshire Baptist Church on Tuesday, Nov. 14
Medina, who spent many of his younger days in and out of prison on drug charges, is father to the man who inspired “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” also named Benny Medina.
Here is an interview with Medina from two years ago, in which he talks about growing up in Dallas, the beginnings of his jazz career and his trouble with drugs.
At 14 he hitchhiked to Los Angeles, where he lived with an aunt and started drumming with a pair of sticks and brushes, which he played on any surface available. Caught selling drugs in L.A., authorities sent him back to his parents in Dallas.
At around the 20-minute mark, he speaks about all of the musicians that he watched at the Longhorn Ballroom and the Zanzibar club.
A father of two by the age of 17, Medina joined the U.S. Navy, moved to San Diego and began playing in clubs. But he was busted for selling heroin at age 21 and did almost three years in San Quentin State Prison. He spent most of the time practicing rhythm and drumming.
In the 1960s, he played with Dexter Gordon and toured with Sonny Stitt.
By 1972, Medina was imprisoned at the Wayne Unit at Huntsville, where he played drums in the “Wayne Unit Band,” which performed at the prison rodeo. Their album, “Behind the Walls,” is available on Soundcloud.
Meanwhile, his son Benny Medina had been raised in foster care and by his aunt in the Watts neighborhood of L.A. The younger Medina would later go to live with a family in Beverly Hills, and he attended Beverly Hills High School, where he became friends with Kerry Gordy, the son of Motown founder Barry Gordy. That friendship was the basis for the “Fresh Prince.”
The younger Medina is a record executive, producer and talent manager, whose client list reads like a who’s who of ’80s and ’90s pop music.
The elder Benny Medina performs with his septet at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at Wilshire Baptist Church. Admission is free, but you can reserve a seat here.