R&B and soul singer Ben E King, best known for the classic song Stand By Me, has died at the age of 76.
Born Benjamin Earl Nelson, he initially joined a doo-wop group called The Five Crowns, who became The Drifters. In the late 1950s their hits including There Goes My Baby, which he co-wrote and which reached No. 2 in the US charts in 1959, and Save The Last Dance For Me. That song became a staple of groups throughout the sixties and has been recorded by so many artists including Michael Bublé.
But the group members were paid just $100 per week by their manager and, after a request for a pay rise was turned down, the singer decided to go it alone. In the process, he adopted the surname King.
His first solo hit, in 1961, was Spanish Harlem, still one of my favourite songs, which was followed by Stand By Me which reached the US top five in 1961. Stand by Me was yet another staple of sixties groups with it’s simple 4 chord structure the sound of the guiro (scraper) and its repetitive bass line.
Interestingly he originally intended “Stand By Me” for The Drifters, but their manager said they didn’t need it (many people think it was a hit for the them so closely is Ben E King associated withe them).
“In my vocal I think you can hear something of my earlier times when I’d sing in subway halls for the echo, and perform doo-wop on street corners,” he told The Guardian in 2013. “But I had a lot of influences, too – singers like Sam Cooke and Brook Benton. The song’s success lay in the way Leiber and Stoller took chances, though, borrowing from symphonic scores, and we had a brilliant string arranger.”
The song went on to chart nine times on the US Billboard 100 – King’s version twice and seven times with covers by artists like John Lennon. It was also the fourth most-played track of the 20th Century on US radio and TV.