R&B legend Ben E. King, best known for his early ’60s hit “Stand By Me,” passed away Thursday at the age of 76, according to the singer’s publicist. The exact cause of death has not been released at press time.
King got his start in music in the 1950s singing with a doo-wop group called the Five Crowns, but rose to fame when George Treadwell hired him, along with several other members of the Crowns, to replace the lineup for a group he was managing called The Drifters, whose previous members he had fired en masse. With King at the lead vocal position, the Drifters went on to score numerous charting hits, including “Save the Last Dance for Me,” “There Goes My Baby” and “This Magic Moment.”
But these charting successes paled in comparison to what followed. In 1960, King left the Drifters for a solo career under the moniker “Ben E. King” (a stylized version of his birth name, Benjamin King). After his debut single “Spanish Harlem” went to the Top 10, the song “Stand By Me” topped the R&B charts and landed at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Since then, the song has been covered by hundreds of other artists, inspired a film by the same name, and earned the rank of 122 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Just this year, “Stand By Me” was also listed in the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress for its cultural and historical significance. King himself was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 as a member of The Drifters.
Ben E. King is the second R&B icon and Rock Hall-of-Famer to pass away in the last couple of weeks. Percy Sledge, known for his song “When a Man Loves a Woman,” died on April 14.