Acclaimed soul and R&B singer Ben E. King has died today at the age of 76 of natural causes, as reported by Rolling Stone.
Though King hit the Billboard hot 100 with 21 songs between 1961 and 1975 (via Billboard), he will no doubt best be remembered for his 1961 classic Stand By Me, which he co-wrote with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller.
The song was a hit after its release in 1961, and also enjoyed a renaissance of sorts when Rob Reiner’s iconic 1986 coming of age movie of the same name used the song, and its title to great effect. The song was also entered into the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry earlier this year, citing King’s “incandescent vocal” as the key to its endurance. Stand By Me has since been covered by several notable performers, including John Lennon, and Spyder Turner. The BBC reports the song is the fourth most played song of the 20th century.
King was born in Henderson, NC on September 23, 1938. His family moved to Harlem in 1947, and he began his storied career in music in the ’50s as a member of the group Five Crowns, which later became the latest iteration of The Drifters. As Rolling Stone reports, King sang lead in the group on several big hits, including This Magic Moment, Save the Last Dance for Me, and There Goes My Baby. King left the group to go solo after a year.
Besides Stand By Me, King leant his emotional rasp to several other memorable solo hits including the oft recorded Spanish Harlem, and Supernatural Thing — Part 1, both of which were number 10 hits, and the latter reached number 1 on the R&B charts. In 1988, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His last album was recorded in 2006.
Gary U.S. Bonds wrote a short eulogy to his friend on Facebook, saying, “With a heavy heart, I must say goodbye to one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing … I can tell you that Ben E. will be missed more than words can say.”
The singer’s legendary imprint on music, and the community through his charitable organization the Ben E King Stand By Me Foundation will endure for years after his passing. King is survived by his wife, Betty Nelson.