The BBC reports that Ben E. King, the R&B singer who founded the Drifters and who sang and co-wrote the ageless ballad “Stand By Me” has died. A publicist cites only “natural causes.” King was 76.
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson in North Carolina. As a child, he moved to Harlem, where he joined a doo-wop group called the Five Crowns in 1958. When that group’s manager fired all of its members, they formed their own group, calling it the Drifters. King co-wrote “There Goes My Baby,” the Drifters’ first big hit, in 1959. He also sang lead on singles like “Save The Last Dance For Me” and “This Magic Moment.” But after a contract dispute, King left the group and went solo in 1960.
King’s first solo single, 1961’s “Spanish Harlem,” was a hit. He followed it up with “Stand By Me,” a song he co-wrote with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller that stands as one of those beautiful, deathless songs that everyone knows and everyone loves. The song made it into Billboard’s top five in 1961, and it did the same thing in 1986, after it appeared in the movie of the same name. King continued to make crossover hits like “Amor” and “I (Who Have Nothing)” for the next few years, and he was a mainstay on R&B radio into the mid-’70s. He continued to perform and record for decades, making televised appearances with acts as disparate as Def Leppard and Prince Royce. Below, watch some videos of him singing.