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Ben E. King

Performer, Composer
( b. Sep 28, 1938 Henderson, North Carolina, USA - d. Apr 30, 2015 Hackensack, New Jersey, USA ) Male
Also known as: Benjamin Earl Nelson [Birthname]

Ben E. King was the smooth, soulful baritone who led the Drifters on "There Goes My Baby," "Save the Last Dance for Me" and other hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and as a solo artist recorded the classic singles "Spanish Harlem" and "Stand by Me."

Mr. King was working in his father's Harlem luncheonette in 1956 when a local impresario, Lover Patterson, overheard him singing to himself and persuaded him to join a group he managed, the Five Crowns.

Lightning struck when the group, then known as the Crowns, performed at the Apollo Theater on a bill with the original Drifters in 1958 and attracted the attention of George Treadwell, who managed the Drifters and owned the name.

Mr. Treadwell had been feuding with his group, which had entered a lean period after Clyde McPhatter, its lead singer, was drafted into the Army in late 1954. He fired the Drifters en masse and replaced them with Mr. King and three of his fellow singers.

Atlantic Records assigned the songwriting team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to produce the group's recordings. The match turned out to be inspired, yielding a streak of hit records that helped the Drifters achieve crossover success. Mr. King's suave but impassioned vocals had a lot to do with it.

"There Goes My Baby," released in 1959, reached No. 2 on the pop charts. It was followed by "Dance With Me," "This Magic Moment," "I Count the Tears," "Lonely Winds" and "Save the Last Dance for Me," a No. 1 hit.

Mr. King left the Drifters in 1960 and embarked on a successful solo career. "Spanish Harlem," written by Mr. Leiber with Phil Spector, reached the Top 10 that year. "Stand by Me," which Mr. King helped write, reached the Top 10 in 1961 and again in 1986, when it was used in the soundtrack of the Rob Reiner film of the same name.

Recording for Atco, a subsidiary of Atlantic, Mr. King scored modest successes in the 1960s with "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)," "I (Who Have Nothing)," "Seven Letters" and "Tears, Tears, Tears." In 1968, he performed on the single "Soul Meeting," a minor hit for the Soul Clan, an Atlantic supergroup whose members also included Solomon Burke and Joe Tex.

By the end of the decade his career was in decline. He rebounded with the 1975 funk hit "Supernatural Thing, Part 1," and in 1977 recorded a well-regarded album with the Average White Band, "Benny and Us." He continued to turn out albums for Atlantic into the 1980s, recording "Let Me Live in Your Life" (1978), "Music Trance" (1980) and "Street Tough" (1981).

Mr. King later recorded for a variety of independent labels and performed regularly in clubs and small concert halls in the United States and abroad.

Source: The New York Times obituary

ProductionsDate of Productions
Smokey Joe's Cafe
[Musical, Revue, Original]
  • Additional numbers by Ben E. King
  • Additional numbers by Benjamin Earl Nelson
  • Starring: Ben E. King
      Guest Star - Additional (Dec 15, 1998 - Dec 27, 1998)
Mar 02, 1995 - Jan 16, 2000
Find out where Ben E. King and are credited together