Stand by me: Music legend Ben E King dies at 76

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Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ben E. King in 2007.
Image: annulla.

Ben E King, the soul singer recognised for memorable track "Stand by Me", died on Thursday at the age of 76.

According to publicist Phil Brown, King died in New Jersey of natural causes.

King was best known for being a part of The Drifters in the 1950s who had hits such as "Save the Last Dance for Me", and "There Goes my Baby". Later on when he left the band and embarked on a solo career, he took on the name "Ben E King" and brought out notable tracks "Spanish Harlem" and "Supernatural Thing — Part One". In 1961 he released the song "Stand by Me". It was later the title track for the 1986 film Stand by Me directed by Rob Reiner.

In an interview with Boston public television station WGBH, King recalled writing track "Stand by Me", saying, "when I wrote 'Stand by Me' as a song, and to know that the song will probably be here for hundreds and hundreds of years to come, it's great".

At the news of King's death, many sent their condolences and paid tribute online through social media. On Twitter, novelist Salman Rushdie linked King's "Stand by Me", tweeting "Thanks Ben E King", and musician Gary U.S. Bonds wrote about his friendship with King on Facebook, saying, "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 [...] Our sincere condolences go out to Betty and the entire family."

Survived by his wife Betty, along with three children and six grandchildren, King, originally known as Benjamin Earl Nelson, started in a doo-wop band, The Five Crowns, who eventually became The Drifters. According to BBC News, the tracks "Stand by Me", "Spanish Harlem", and "There Goes my Baby" are on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's list of 500 songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. Talking to The Guardian in 2013, King spoke about his voice in "Stand by Me". He said, "In my vocal I think you can hear something of my earlier times when I'd sing in subway halls for the echo, and perform doo-wop on street corners".