Sunday, May 19, 2024

Ben E. King of the Drifters, Singer of “Stand by Me” and “Spanish Harlem,” Dead at 76


I won’t cry/I won’t shed a tear— quite the opposite this morning as we say goodbye to Ben E, King, lead singer of the Drifters. He recorded “Stand by Me” by Leiber and Stoller as a solo act and made it a classic song for the ages. He had lots of other hits too including “Spanish Harlem” and much later “Supernatural Thing.” Benny suffered a bad stroke in the 90s but kept going and never gave up.

Benny’s death makes him the third soul legend to die in recent weeks after Don Covay and Percy Sledge. We are losing an essential group of musicians who can never be replaced.

“He was a gem, and a great ballad singer. He was very serious,” says Sam Moore of Sam & Dave fame, and a friend and colleague of Benny’s from the legendary Atlantic Records era. Moore told me he was discovered by Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun in Miami singing King’s “Don’t Play That Song for Me.” The song later became associated with Aretha Franklin as well.
“What a man, what a friend, he was one of my heroes,” Moore says.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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