The former Drifters lead singer and soul legend Ben E. King has died at the age of 76.
Benjamin Earl King was born in Henderson, North Carolina in September 1938. In 1958 he joined a local soul group called The Five Crowns. The group was short-lived because later the same year George Treadwell, the Drifters’ manager fire all the original members and replaced them with all the members of the Five Crowns. They then signed to the Atlantic and their first hit was the Ben E. King co written song There Goes My Baby. The most well-known Drifters song with King on lead vocals was Save the Last Dance for Me which reached number two in the UK in December 1960.
Following a dispute between the Drifters’ manager and King’s manager about a pay increased whilst in the group, Ben was told that he could no longer perform in television not on tour but would remain as lead singer until a suitable replacement was found. That happened in 1960 when Rudy Lewis was brought in.
King instantly launched a solo career and remained with Atlantic records where his first single, Spanish Harlem make the top 10 in the US but failed to chart in the UK. His next song, First Taste of Love gave him his first taste of UK success reaching number 27 and featured backing vocals from Elise Bretton, Lillian Clark and Myriam Workman who were all members of the Ray Charles Singers.
Then came the big one! Stand By Me, which made number four in the States and the same position as its predecessor on these shores. It was inspired by the Soul Stirrers song Stand By Me Father which was first recorded in 1959.
Although his career went quiet in the UK, he charted 29 further hits on Billboard, including his original version of I (Who Have nothing) which was covered in the UK by both Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones. King made a spectacular and unexpected comeback when Stand By Me was featured as the theme to the 1986 film of the same name and rocketed the song to number one. The two weeks it spent at the top in February and March 1987 there was another soul legend at number two who was enjoying a re-issue of his 1966 hit When A Man Loves A Woman and that was Percy sledge who died just a fortnight ago. Continuing the soul revival in that chart, the week King dropped to number two, Jackie Wilson went up to number three which his re-issue of I Get The Sweetest Feeling.
Many tributes have been paid to King who died of natural causes, none lovelier than his friend Gary U.S. Bonds who posted this on has Facebook page: 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. Thank you Ben E. for your friendship and the wonderful legacy you leave behind.