Born Benjamin Earl Nelson, King was an American songwriter, soul and R & B singer and record producer. He was born in Henderson, North Carolina and moved to New York with his family at the age of 9 in 1947. He began singing in church choirs, and in High School formed the Four B’s, a Doo Wop group that sometimes performed at the Apollo Theater. He had a cameo with the Moon Glows and the Five Crowns.
In 1958 George Treadwell, owner of the name the Drifters, fired the group and hired the Five Crowns to be the new Drifters. The new group found instant success with King on lead vocals, singing a song he co-wrote, titled “There Goes my Baby”. By adding orchestral strings to the vocals, a bold move for a soul/pop song at the time, it vaulted the track to #2 on the Pop and #1 on the R& B charts. Other hits followed with King singing lead, including “Dance with me”, “This Magic Moment, and “Save the Last Dance for Me”, the only Drifters song to reach #1 on the R & B and pop charts.
After a contract and royalties dispute, King moved on with his own solo career under the name Ben E. King. He scored a top ten hit in 1961 with the enchanting “Spanish Harlem”, a song he co-wrote with Phil Spector. He then released a song later that year entitled “Stand by Me”, which has become an enduring classic. The #1 R & B track was again co=written by King, and also reached #5 on the pop charts. Over the ensuing decades, “Stand by Me” has been covered countless times by everyone from Otis Redding, John Lennon, Seal and Tracey Ullman to Bachata singer Prince Royce. Licensing agency BMI has listed “Stand by Me” as the fourth most recorded song of the 20th Century. The song again reached the top ten in the 1980s on the soundtrack of the Rob Reiner coming of age film of the same name.
King continued to have hits throughout the 1960s with songs like “Amor” and “I Who Have Nothing” before the British invasion changed the musical landscape.
He ultimately recorded twenty-one songs that entered the 50top 1200 of the Billboard pop charts. King was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Drifters. Succumbing to an unidentified illness King died at the age of 76 in Hackensack, New Jersey on April 30, 2015. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Betty, three children, and several grandchildren.