R&B crooner Ben E. King spent time in the Drifters before going solo with
a number of early '60s smash hits, including his signature song "Stand
by Me" (RealAudio
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson 61 years ago today in Henderson, N.C.
He sang in church choirs as a youth. King moved with his family to the
Harlem district in New York City, where he formed his first group, the
In the mid-'50s King tried out for the Moonglows. When he was turned down,
he joined the Five Crowns, whose lead singer, Bobby Hendricks, soon left
to join the Drifters. In 1959 the Drifters' manager canned the group and
replaced them with the Five Crowns, including King.
The new Drifters lineup had a #2 pop smash and #1 R&B song with "There
Goes My Baby," which was sung and co-written by King. The cut featured
strings, unprecedented for an R&B hit. King also handled lead vocals on
other big Drifters hits, such as the #1 "Save the Last Dance For Me" and
the top-20 "This Magic Moment" (RealAudio
excerpt) both produced by the famed team of Jerry Leiber
and Mike Stoller.
King went solo and in 1961 had a top-10 hit with "Spanish Harlem," written
by Leiber and Phil Spector. That same year, King hit #4 with his composition
"Stand by Me." Most subsequent King records were bigger R&B than pop hits,
including 1963's "I (Who Have Nothing)."
After 1963 King had several lean years professionally, though he continued
to tour in Europe. In 1975 he re-signed with Atlantic Records and enjoyed
a #5 smash with "Supernatural Thing, Part 1." Two years later, King cut
Benny and Us with the Average White Band.
Between 1978 and 1986, King experienced another career slump. But in '86
"Stand by Me" (which John Lennon covered in 1975) was featured in the
hit movie of the same name, based on a Stephen King story. Amazingly,
the song charted and made #9 in the United States. King was suddenly in
demand again. The next year the song was used in a Levi's commercial and
went to #1 in the UK.
King signed with EMI Manhattan Records in 1987 and issued the all-new
Save the Last Dance For Me the following year. In 1990 "Stand by
Me" was named one of BMI's Most Performed Songs of 1940-1990 when it
reached its 3 millionth performance. In 1994 King dueted with Manhattan
Transfer on their cover of "Save the Last Dance For Me."
Other birthdays: Ray Charles, 69; Steve Boone (Lovin' Spoonful), 56;
Julio Iglesias, 56; Ronald Bushy (Iron Butterfly), 54; Bruce Springsteen,
50; Lita Ford, 40; Ani DiFranco, 29; Mike Felumlee (Smoking Popes), 25;
Roy Buchanan, 1939-1988; and John Coltrane, 1926-1967.