On this day: Billy Preston, You Are So Beautiful

Billy Preston You Are So Beautiful

Billy Preston, born September 2, 1946, wrote Grammy-winners, recorded with the Beatles and toured with the Rolling Stones. But the acclaimed musician spent much of his life torn by inner conflict — between his sexuality and his religious belief.

Billy Preston loved his mother. He wrote the Joe Cocker mega-hit ‘You Are So Beautiful’ for her. But when he told her at age nine that he’d been sexually abused, she neither believed nor protected him. The abuse continued.

The self-taught Billy never had a music lesson in his life yet he found fame as a keyboardist even before entering his teens. He backed Mahalia Jackson, appeared on Nat King Cole’s TV show and acted in a 1958 movie.

In 1962, Billy joined Little Richard’s band for a tour of Europe. The self-titled ‘King and Queen of Rock’n’Roll, Little Richard also struggled to reconcile his sexuality and his religion.

In Germany, Billy Preston met the Beatles before their rise to superstardom. Sometimes credited as the ‘Fifth Beatle’, he became the only artist credited by the band themselves as a co-performer, the 1969 single ‘Get Back’ credited to ‘The Beatles with Billy Preston’.

Following the Beatles break-up, Billy toured with the Rolling Stones and released his own music including a number of singles that sold over a million copies.

You Are So Beautiful

In 1974, he and regular songwriting partner Bruce Fisher composed ‘You Are So Beautiful’, a song inspired by Billy’s devotion to his mother.

You are so beautiful
To me
You are so beautiful
To me
Can’t you see
You’re everything I hoped for
You’re everything I need
You are so beautiful
To me

Billy Preston

Despite his trademark radiant smile, Billy Preston was a deeply conflicted man, both gay and fiercely religious.

In 1991, he was caught drunk driving. While on probation, he picked up a 16-year-old boy from a roadside gathering spot for casual labourers.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the singer began smoking cocaine and showing the boy pornographic pictures as he drove.

“Preston then allegedly drove to his Malibu home and took the youth to a barn behind his house. There, Preston pushed him to the ground and grabbed him around the chest.”

Following the arrest, a 38-year-old man came forward and alleged Billy Preston had assaulted him the day before after picking him up at the same spot.

Police dropped child molestation charges in return for BIlly pleading no-contest to charges of drug possession and assault. He served 30 days jail for breaking his probation and 9 months in a drug rehabilitation centre.

Billy Preston returned to recording and touring but began to suffer health problems. He died in 2006 and kidney disease. after finally coming out as gay.

Joe Cocker sang at his funeral and Little Richard delivered an oration. Letters were read from Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton.

In 2021, Billy Preston was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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