Born in New York City on June 28, 1918. In 1937 she studied piano at the Julliard School of Music in New York City. She received her B.A. degree from Hunter College in 1939. She took her M.A. and Ph.D. in musicology at the State University of Iowa in 1951 and 1961. She met Arthur L. Benton in Paris and they married soon after. Arthur L. Benton (1909-2006) was professor of psychology and neurology at the University of Iowa from 1948 until his retirement in 1978. The couple had three children.
Dr. Benton began her career at the State University of Iowa Libraries in 1952 as part of a team of faculty wives who worked to reclassify the library's collections from the Dewey Decimal System to the Library of Congress System. Her formal education did not include librarianship; however, she drew upon her knowledge of music to work with that collection. In 1957 she was made head of the music library. She was made full professor of music in 1976.
As a scholar, according to biographer Mary K. Jones, she is best known for her book Ignace Pleyel, A Thematic Catalogue of his Compositions (Pendragon, 1977), which received the Music Library Association award for the best book-length bibliography of that year. In 1967 she published the first volume of the Directory of Music Research Libraries, a descriptive reference to music libraries around the world. The project grew into a five-volume series which she edited until the time of her death. In 1976 she became the editor of Fontes artis musicae (Journal of the International Association of Music Libraries).
Rita Benton died March 23, 1980, while conducting research in Paris. In her honor, the University of Iowa music library was renamed the Rita Benton Music Library on September 13, 1980.