It's another sad loss in the world of music as Ben E. King, who first made the classic song "Stand By Me" a massive hit, passed away on May 1st.
Born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, NC, his family moved to Harlem when he was a young boy. He got caught up in the music scene and joined a doo-wop vocal group called The Five Crowns. George Treadwell, the manager of the popular singing group, The Drifters fired all the members (since he owned the name) and brought in the Five Crowns to become a new version of this group in 1958. They began recording on Atlantic Records and with Nelson as one of the lead singers, The Drifters had several hits including "There Goes My Baby", "This Magic Moment" and "Save The Last Dance For Me". After this success, Nelson asked Treadwell for a raise and a share of the royalties but was refused. The singer decided it was time to strike out on his own and began as a solo artist, taking on the name "Ben E. King".
Spanish Harlem" in 1961, reaching the top-twenty on the r&b chart and making it to number ten on the pop but it was the follow-up that would make his career. Written by King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, "Stand By Me" became a world-wide sensation with the song so popular that it reached the US top-ten twice, first in 1961 and again 1986 following the release of the beloved Rob Reiner film that shared the title. "Stand By Me" has been covered at least four hundred times and in all genres of music with memorable versions by John Lennon, Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire and Mickey Gilley for the "Urban Cowboy" soundtrack. King had other popular songs including "Amor", "I (Who Have Nothing)", "Here Comes The Night" and "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)" (like "Spanish Harlem", Aretha Franklin covered the song and made it an even bigger hit).
Ben E. King was inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Drifters in 1988 and honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. Listen to King's first hit as a member of the new Drifters (also providing the lead vocal) and the first charting song with him as a solo act:
"There Goes My Baby" - The Drifters (1959) mp3
"Spanish Harlem" - Ben E. King (1961) mp3