Today, 1 May 2015, R&B great Ben E. King, born Benjamin Earl Nelson in North Carolina, died of natural causes in New Jersey. King initially found success as a member of the doo-wop group The Drifters, whose biggest hits were “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “There Goes My Baby,” which he co-wrote. The Drifters were paid only $100 a week by their scum-bucket manager, and after his request for a raise was turned down, Ben decided to try a solo career.
He released “Spanish Harlem in 1961 as his first solo hit. His biggest record, however, was “Stand By Me,” which hit the Top 10 upon its release in 1961 and charted in 1986 when it was featured in the hit film of the same name. The re-release gave King his 1st Number One hit in the UK. King initially intended “Stand by Me” to be for the Drifters, but he said they turned it down. Their loss and prosperity’s gain. The song went on to chart 7 more times by artists releasing covers of it. The Drifters did eventually perform the song, but the lead vocals paled in comparison to King’s.
“Stand By Me,” “Spanish Harlem,” and “There Goes My Baby” were all named on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and were all given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award. US Library of Congress added it to the National Recording Registry, declaring that “it was King’s incandescent vocal that made it a classic”. “Spanish Harlem,” written by Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector, features Spector’s familiar Wall of Sound (over) production, which the song didn’t need, and a strong echo chamber to give him additional resonance on the shitty sound systems that persisted at the time.
King is also known for his Ben E King Stand By Me Foundation, a charity that aids “deserving youths working to further their education and to assist various civic organizations and associations in their efforts to improve the quality of life of their constituents.” King was aged 76.