Ben E. King, the soul singer best known for “Stand By Me,” has died at age 76. In addition to singing and co-composing that iconic 1961 track, King was one of the lead members of the Drifters from 1958 to 1960. According to The Telegraph, King died of natural causes on Thursday, April 30.
As a member of the Drifters, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, alongside Clyde McPhatter, Rudy Lewis, Johnny Moore, Bill Pinkney, Gerhart Thrasher and Charlie Thomas.
“Stand By Me” was named one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and inducted into the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. It hit the top of the U.S. R&B singles chart in 1961 and the U.K. singles chart in 1987 when it was re-released as the theme song for the film of the same name. “Stand By Me,” “Spanish Harlem” and the Drifters’ “There Goes My Baby” were named three of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Those records also earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, along with the Drifters’ “Save The Last Dance For Me.” King’s other notable tracks include “I (Who Have Nothing),” “Don’t Play That Song (You Lied),” “Young Boy Blues” and “Amor.”
Fellow singer Gary U.S. Bonds wrote a tribute to King on Facebook late Thursday: “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.”
Benjamin Earl King was born September 28, 1938 in Henderson, North Carolina. He and his family moved to Harlem, New York when King was 9. In 1958, King became a member of a doo wop group called the Five Crowns. After the Drifters’ manager, George Treadwell, fired the original lineup, he replaced them with the Five Crowns roster, which included King, Charlie Thomas, Dock Green and Elsbeary Hobbs.
King recorded only 13 songs with the Drifters, including “This Magic Moment,” and “I Count the Tears.” After King left the band, he enjoyed a lucrative solo career, and continued touring through 2013, performing at the 34th Annual John Lennon Tribute in 2014.
Though best known for his 1960s work, King’s career enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 1970s after he was signed to Atlantic Records. 1975 album “Supernatural” marked a high point, with lead-off single “Supernatural Thing” topping the R&B chart and rising to No. 5 on the pop chart.