A couple of days before the royal wedding, famed pop music composer Mike Stoller received a call from his office.
He told me, “We heard they might be using ‘Stand by Me’ among other songs in the ceremony.” That was it.
Cut to last Saturday morning. Stoller and his singer-songwriter wife Corky Hale were in Ogunquit, Maine for a pre-Broadway performance of the Lieber and Stoller hit musical “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” Suddenly the phone started ringing, as they say, off the hook.
“Stand By Me,” which the late Jerry Lieber and Stoller wrote and produced, adapting it from Ben E. King of the Drifters 58 years ago, was featured in Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s royal wedding as performed by the Royal Kingdom Choir. It was the only pop hit heard during the ceremony, which was a massive ratings getter internationally.
Mike told me today: “We didn’t know it would be the ONLY pop song in the ceremony.” He paused. “I’m just thrilled.”
The original version of “Stand by Me” remains a classic pop and R&B hit. There have many dozens of cover hits, too, including a famous one by John Lennon.
Stoller said in an interview published several years ago: “Ben E. had the beginings of a song—both words and music. He worked on the lyrics together with Jerry, and I added elements to the music, particularly the bass line. To some degree, it’s based on a gospel song called Lord Stand By Me. I have a feeling that Jerry and Ben E. were inspired by it. Ben, of course, had a strong background in church music. He’s a 50% writer on the song, and Jerry and I are 25% each.”
The song makes for the big finale of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” a musical comprising the Lieber-Stoller songbook, which returns to Broadway in July. The original production played 2,036 performances from 1995-2000.