“Stand By Me,” written by Ben E. King, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, was inspired by the spiritual “Lord Stand By Me.” The song was written for a group known as The Drifters, of which he was a member. But The Drifters decided not to record it. Ben E. King recorded it solo and it hit #1 on the R&B and Pop charts in 1961, and again in 1986 as the theme for the film of the same name, directed by Rob Reiner. A movie inspired by a song? Yes it happens, and this one was a perfect fit!
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson on September 28, 1938 in Henderson, North Carolina. At the age of nine he moved to Harlem, New York. In 1958, under his birth name, he joined a group called the Five Crowns. Later that same year The Drifters manager, George Treadwell fired the entire crew and replaced them with the group from the Five Crowns.
The Drifters first recording, “There Goes My Baby,” was a mile-high hit. It was co-written by King, who sang lead for the group on the Atlantic Records label. That hit was followed by many others including, but not limited to, “Save The Last Dance For Me,” and “This Magic Moment.” But the time came when Treadwell and King agreed to disagree over a contract dispute and King left The Drifters in 1960.
His first solo song, “Spanish Harlem,” was a huge hit followed by his second solo hit, “Stand by Me.” He achieved five #1 hits in his career both as a member of The Drifters and as a solo artist; “There Goes My Baby,” “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Stand By Me (as a Drifter,) “Supernatural Thing,” and the re-issued 1986 version of “Stand By Me”( as a solo.)
“Stand By Me” was eventually voted one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. King cited Brook Benton, Roy Hamilton and Sam Cooke as influences in his singing career. In 2012, the Songwriters Hall of Fame awarded “Stand By Me” its Towering Song Award and King received the Towering Performance Award for his recording of the song. “Stand By Me” was covered by such a diverse variety of artists as Otis Redding, John Lennon and Mickey Gilley.
King was active in his charity, the Stand By Me Foundation, which helps to provide education to deserving young people.
Ben E. King died on April 30, 2015 at the Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, New Jersey at the age of 76. He suffered from coronary heart disease. He is survived by his wife of 51 years, Betty.
Ben E. King we will always remember the hours of entertainment you gave us and “Stand By You.”