Arts, News, Obituaries

Iconic R&B Singer, Prolific Songwriter Ben E. King Dies

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Ben E. King  died last week of natural causes.
Ben E. King died last week of natural causes.

Ben E. King, who was best known for recording “Stand By Me,” Spanish Harlem,” and for a time The Drifters lead singer, died of natural causes Thursday in New Jersey. Mr. King, who lived in Teaneck, was 76.

In addition to “Stand by Me” and “Spanish Harlem,” Mr. King’s other hit recordings included “Supernatural Thing,” “Don’t Play That Song,” “I Who Have Nothing”and “Amor.”

“Stand By Me,” however, was Mr. King’s megahit and signature song. He co-wrote the song with Mike Leiber and Jerry Stoller and recorded it on Oct. 27, 1960. The record was released the next year and it became a giant hit on both the R&B and pop charts. It was featured on the album “Don’t Play That Song.”

“Stand By Me” became one of the most-frequently played songs on the radio. The song has been covered more than 400 times by other recording artists, including John Lennon and Mickey Gilley, the country singer.

Some of “Stand By Me’s” popularity was due to Hollywood director Rob Reiner making a 1986 movie titled “Stand By Me” in which Mr. King’s recording was featured prominently on the film’s soundtrack.

When the film opened in movie theaters, Mr. King’s recording was re-released as a single, and it became the No. 1 record in the United Kingdom and a top 10 hit in the United States.

Mr. King, who would become a great singer as well as a prolific songwriter, was born Benjamin Earl Nelson on September 28, 1938, in Henderson, N.C.

When he was a young boy, his family moved to New York City.  It was there that he discovered his unique talent for singing harmony in a group. He didn’t stay in the background long; he was destined for the solo spotlight.

In 1958, he joined “The Drifters,” one the great R&B groups of all time. He wrote “There Goes My Baby,” one of the group’s biggest hits and the first popular recording to feature violins.

He moved to singing the lead. His lead songs included “Dance with Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance,” and “I Count the Tears.”

In 1960, he left “The Drifters” to become a solo artist, writing and recording more songs. His first hit record was “Spanish Harlem” in 1961.  That recording was followed by “Stand By Me.”

He may have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum as a member of The Drifters in 1988, but that is not clear. He was not inducted into the hall of fame as a solo artist, according to a check of the museum’s website.

Mr. King is survived by his wife, Betty, three children and six grandchildren. Funeral arrangements are pending, Phil Brown, Mr. King’s agent wrote in an email on Friday to NorthStar News Today.

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