New York, NY (Top40 Charts) Soul singer Ben E. King, whose classic hit "Stand By Me" became an enduring affirmation of love and devotion for generations of listeners, has died. King died Thursday in New Jersey, his booking agent, Randy Irwin, told reporters. He was 76.
Biography Benjamin Earl King (September 28, 1938 - April 30, 2015), known as Ben E. King, was an American soul and R&B singer. He was perhaps best known as the singer and co-composer of "Stand by Me" - a US Top 10 hit, both in 1961 and later in 1986 (when it was used as the theme to the film of the same name), a number one hit in the UK in 1987, and #25 on the RIAA's list of Songs of the Century - and as one of the principal lead singers of the R&B vocal group the Drifters.
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson on September 28, 1938 in Henderson, North Carolina, and moved to Harlem, New York, at age nine.
In 1958, King (still using his birth name) joined a doo-wop group called the Five Crowns. Later in 1958, the Drifters' manager George Treadwell fired the members of the original Drifters, and replaced them with the Five Crowns. King had a string of R&B hits with the group on Atlantic Records. He co-wrote and sang lead on the first Atlantic hit by the new version of the Drifters, "There Goes My Baby" (1959). He also sang lead on a succession of hits by the team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, including "Save the Last Dance for Me", "This Magic Moment", and "I Count the Tears". King only recorded thirteen songs with the Drifters—two backing other lead singers and eleven lead vocal performances—including a non-single called "Temptation" (later redone by Drifters vocalist Johnny Moore). The last of the King-led Drifters singles to be released was "Sometimes I Wonder", which was recorded May 19, 1960, but not issued until June 1962.
Due to a contract dispute with Treadwell in which King and his manager, Lover Patterson, demanded that King be given a salary increase and a fair share of royalties, King never again performed with the Drifters on tour or on television; he would only record with the group until a suitable replacement could be found. On television, fellow Drifters member Charlie Thomas usually lip-synched the songs that King had recorded with the Drifters.
In May 1960, King left the Drifters, assuming the more memorable stage name Ben E. King in preparation for a successful solo career. Remaining with Atlantic Records on its Atco imprint, King scored his first solo hit with the ballad "Spanish Harlem" (1961). His next single, "Stand by Me", written with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, ultimately would be voted as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. King cited singers Brook Benton, Roy Hamilton and Sam Cooke as influences for his vocals of the song. "Stand by Me", "There Goes My Baby", and "Spanish Harlem" were named as three of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll; and each of those records plus "Save The Last Dance For Me" has earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. King's other well-known songs include "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)", "Amor", "Seven Letters", "How Can I Forget", "On the Horizon", "Young Boy Blues", "First Taste of Love", "Here Comes the Night", "Ecstasy", and "That's When It Hurts". In the summer of 1963, King had a Top 30 hit with "I (Who Have Nothing)", which reached the Top 10 on New York's radio station, WMCA.
King's records continued to place well on the Billboard Hot 100 chart until 1965. British pop bands began to dominate the pop music scene, but King still continued to make R&B hits, including "What is Soul?" (1966), "Tears, Tears, Tears" (1967), and "Supernatural Thing" (1975). A 1986 re-issue of "Stand by Me" followed the song's use as the theme song to the movie Stand By Me and re-entered the Billboard Top Ten after a 25-year absence.
In 1990, King and Bo Diddley, along with Doug Lazy, recorded a revamped hip hop version of the Monotones' 1958 hit song "Book of Love" for the soundtrack of the movie Book of Love. He also recorded a children's album, I Have Songs In My Pocket, written and produced by children's music artist Bobby Susser in 1998, which won the Early Childhood News' Directors' Choice Award and Dr. Toy's/the Institute for Childhood Resources Award. King performed "Stand by Me" on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2007. Ahmet Ertegun said, "King is one of the greatest singers in the history of rock and roll and rhythm and blues."
As a Drifter and as a solo artist, King had achieved five number one hits: "There Goes My Baby", "Save The Last Dance For Me", "Stand By Me", "Supernatural Thing", and the 1986 re-issue of "Stand By Me". He also earned 12 Top 10 hits and 26 Top 40 hits from 1959 to 1986. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Drifter; he was also nominated as a solo artist.
King's "I (Who Have Nothing)" was selected for the Sopranos Peppers and Eggs Soundtrack CD (2001).
King was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.
On March 27, 2012, the Songwriters Hall of Fame announced that "Stand By Me" would receive its 2012 Towering Song Award and that King would be honored with the 2012 Towering Performance Award for his recording of the song.
King was active in his charitable foundation, the Stand By Me Foundation, which helps to provide education to deserving youths. He was a resident of Teaneck, New Jersey, from the late 1960s.
King performed "Stand By Me" during a televised tribute to late comedian George Carlin, as he was one of Carlin's favorite artists.
On November 11, 2010, he performed "Stand By Me" on the Latin Grammys with Prince Royce.
King toured the United Kingdom in 2013 and played concerts in the United States as late as 2014, despite reported health problems.
King died on April 30, 2015, at the age of 76. His agent said he suffered from "coronary problems" at the time of his death. King is survived by his wife of 51 years, Betty.
King has been covered by acts from several genres. "So Much Loved" was recorded by Dusty Springfield in 1969. "I (Who Have Nothing)" was performed by Shirley Bassey in 1963 and also by Tom Jones in 1970. "Till I Can't Get It Anymore" was revisited by peer Ray Charles in 1970 and "Spanish Harlem" was sung by Aretha Franklin in 1971. "Stand by Me" was covered by the likes of Otis Redding, John Lennon and Mickey Gilley. King also inspired several rock bands: Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded "Supernatural Thing" in 1981 and Led Zeppelin did a cover version of "Groovin'", more known under the title of "We're Gonna Groove", in 1982.
Spanish Harlem (1961, Atco) US: #57 UK: #30 Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers (1962)
Don't Play That Song! (1962)
Young Boy Blues (1964)
Ben E. King's Greatest Hits (1964) Seven Letters (1965)
What Is Soul (1967) (not issued in the U.S.)
Rough Edges (1970, Maxwell)
The Beginning of It All (1972, Mandala) Supernatural (1975, Atlantic) US: #39
I Had a Love (1976)
Let Me Live in Your Life (1978) Music Trance (1980)
Street Tough (1980)
Save the Last Dance for Me (1987, EMI-Manhattan)
Stand by Me: The Ultimate Collection (1987, Atlantic) UK: #14
What's Important to Me (1991, Ichiban)
Anthology (1993, Rhino)
Shades of Blue (1993, Half Note)
I Have Songs in My Pocket (1998, Bobby Susser)
The Very Best of Ben E. King (1998, Rhino) UK: #15
Eleven Best (2001, Cleopatra)
Person To Person: Live At The Blue Note (2003, Half Note)
Soul Masters (2005, DigitalMusic Group)
I've Been Around (2006, True Life)
Love Is Gonna Get You (2007, Synergy) Heart & Soul (2010-2011, CanAm Records)