R&B and Soul singer Ben E King dies aged 76

The US singer, best known for songs such as ‘Stand By Me’, ‘Spanish Harlem’ and ‘Save the Last Dance for Me’ has died.

Ben E. King dies at 76
Ben E King is survived by his wife, Betty; three children and six grandchildren [File: EPA]

R&B and Soul singer, Ben E King, has died of natural causes aged 76, his representative said.

Best know for his hit song “Stand By Me,” King – born Benjamin Earl Nelson – passed away at his longtime residence in Teaneck, New Jersey, on Thursday, his publicist Phil Brown said.

A native of North Carolina who moved to New York City as a boy, King was singing with the Five Crowns when they were hired in 1958 to become the new incarnation of the Drifters, a top act for Atlantic Records who had several doo-wop hits featuring tenor Clyde McPhatter.

The new Drifters, their records among the first in the rock era to use strings, had a more polished production and vocal style and became key influences on numerous ’60s recordings.

King co-wrote and sang lead on “There Goes My Baby”, and he and the Drifters followed with such favorites as “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “This Magic Moment”, romantic and emotional ballads mostly written by the team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman.

Known for his warm smile and trim mustache, King did not stay long. He left the Drifters in the early ’60s because of a dispute over salary and royalties, but quickly found success on his own.

He broke through with “Spanish Harlem”, co-written by Phil Spector and Jerry Leiber, and sealed his name in music history with “Stand by Me”.

A reworked gospel number co-written by King, Leiber and Mike Stoller, “Stand by Me” was a soaring declaration of dependence and devotion, chosen as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America and added earlier this year to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.

John Lennon covered it in the 1970s and “Stand by Me” found new listeners in the ’80s when it was featured in the Rob Reiner movie of the same name. The song returned to the charts and King appeared in a promotional music video along with cast members River Phoenix and Wil Wheaton.

“Of course, the kids who had never heard of a person called Ben E. King were then aware of the name associated with the song,” King told the web site classicbands.com in 1993. “That gave a tremendous lift to me as an artist.”

Like many early rock performers, King had seen his career fade when the Beatles and other British acts arrived in the mid-1960s.

He did manage a hit during the disco era in the ’70s with “Supernatural Thing” and continued to record and tour, including with an ’80s edition of the Drifters. According to Billboard, he had 21 songs in the top 100 between 1961 and 1975. King and assorted other Drifters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

He is survived by his wife, Betty; three children and six grandchildren, according to Brown.

Source: News Agencies