George Bernard Benta, who as executive director of Benta’s Funeral Home in Harlem personally supervised the funerals of such notables as Langston Hughes, Hall Johnson, James Baldwin, Sandy Sadler, Etta Jones, Coleman Hawkins, Paul Roberson, Alvin Ailey, Pearl Primus, John Henrik Clarke, Matthew Henson, among others, has died. He was 91.
Funeral services were being held today, Jan. 10, at 11 a.m. at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, 204 W. 134th St., New York.
Benta was born on Sept. 3, 1921, in New York City, the second child of George Alexander and Margaret Sharry Jane Benta. His mother passed away when Bernard was 3, but his stepmother, Helena Frye Benta, helped raise him and his siblings.
Benta attended Frederick Douglass Junior High School, PS 139, where he had famed writer Countee Cullen as his teacher. He graduated from Textiles High School.
At 17, Benta entered the military. After receiving an honorable discharge from the Army, he returned to New York and worked in the U.S. Post Office with his father. Shortly afterward, his father left the postal service to start a mortuary business–Reed and Benta Funeral Home–with a partner in 1928. Benta followed his father into the business.
The business later became Benta’s Funeral Inc. and operated from a brownstone on 132nd Street, before moving to a larger facility. Benta was very proud that each of his children, like himself, became funeral operators. He later founded Alegacy Coaches, a luxury car and limousine service.
Benta married Pearl Marjorie McLeod, whom he had met as adolescent attending St. Philip’s in 1946.
She died in 1989.
He is survived by his second wife, Marilyn Benta; his children, Karen Patricia Diane, George Bernard Kevin and Kyle Phillip Michael; his daughters-in-law, Carol Benta, Robin Benta, Dorrence Benta, and his grandchildren, Elsa Rodriguez Williams, George Jason Alexander Benta, Whitney Gayle Benta and Olivia Eduvigis Pearl Benta.