‘Stand By Me’ Singer Ben E. King Dead at 76
Ben E. King, the legendary soul singer best known for his classic “Stand By Me,” died Thursday of natural causes. He was 76. King’s publicist confirmed the singer’s death to the Telegraph, though no other details were provided.
After a stint with the doo-wop group the Five Crowns, the North Carolina-born, Harlem-raised King and his Five Crowns mates were hired to become the new faction of the Drifters. In King’s yearlong tenure with the group, he sang lead on the Drifters’ biggest singles, including “This Magic Moment,” “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “There Goes My Baby.” It was with the Drifters that King earned an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.
“Ben E. King was this younger singer just coming up, yet he had this mature style that was so unusual. He was always wonderful to work with, and we had a truly great run together,” Leiber & Stoller said of King for Rolling Stone‘s 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, which featured the Drifters. “People have said that ‘There Goes My Baby’ was a very influential record because it helped set the stage for the Wall of Sound and Motown. Who are we to argue?”
By 1960, the singer had launched his own solo career with “Spanish Harlem,” a hit written by Jerry Lieber and Phil Spector and “Stand By Me,” which he penned along with Leiber and Mike Stoller.
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“Stand By Me” would soon become King’s most famous, enduring recording, a single that has been covered an innumerable amount of times – including classic renditions by John Lennon, Muhammad Ali and Spyder Turner – and received dozens of music achievements, from a spot on Rolling Stone‘s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time to an induction into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
“I think this is one of the greatest moments of my life,” King told CBS News of his Library of Congress induction. “To think that my children’s children’s children’s will look at that one day and say wow, Gramp did that, that’s a feeling.”
In 1999, the BMI (Broadcast Music Inc.) announced that “Stand By Me” was the fourth most-played song of the 20th century, the BBC reports. King’s version of the song also landed on the Billboard charts on two separate occasions: 1961 and 1986. King would later score a Top Five hit in 1975 with “Supernatural Thing.”
“With an extremely heavy heart, I must say goodbye to one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years – Mr. Ben E. King,” Gary U.S. Bonds wrote of King on Facebook. “I can tell you that Ben E. will be missed more than words can say. Our sincere condolences go out to Betty and the entire family. Thank you Ben E. for your friendship and the wonderful legacy you leave behind.”
Watch King perform “Stand By Me” with Eric Clapton and Phil Collins below: