Ben E. King: He Sang ‘Stand by Me’

R&B singer Ben E. King, who passed away April 30 at age 76 in Hackensack, N.J., had a smooth, unaffected baritone and soulful delivery that earned him a string of top 10 singles between the late 1950s and early 1960s, both as a member of the Drifters and as a solo artist. But it was one song, “Stand by Me,” that ensured musical immortality for the North Carolina native. After becoming a hit in 1961, the song enjoyed a second …

Percy Sledge: He Sang ‘When A Man Loves a Woman’

Back in 1966, a soul singer named Percy Sledge scored a No. 1 hit with his first single, “When a Man Loves a Woman” — a plaintive ballad about obsessive, all-consuming passion and the heartbreak it inevitably inflicts. The Alabama native, who died April 14 at age 74 in Baton Rouge, La., managed to put himself in the soundtrack of countless ’60s boomer romances. Here are some facts about a hit that still resonates and the man who created it. …

Leonard Nimoy: The Pointy-Eared Icon of ‘Star Trek’

How powerful an impression has Leonard Nimoy’s Star Trek portrayal of Spock left on American culture? Hold up your right hand in the split-fingered Vulcan salute that Nimoy invented for his relentlessly logical, dispassionate half-alien starship officer, and odds are that just about everybody in the room will get the reference. >> Famous People We’ve Lost in 2015 Here are some facts about Nimoy, who passed away on Feb. 27 at age 83 in Los Angeles, and his relationship with …

Clark Terry: Master Jazz Trumpeter and Educator

The day before J.K. Simmons won an Oscar (best supporting actor) for his portrayal of a sadistic jazz teacher in Damien Chazelle’s pulsating, fictional movie Whiplash, legendary jazz trumpeter and educator Clark Terry died Feb. 21 at age 94 after a long battle with diabetes. Terry — known for his affable nature as much as his musical brilliance — was one of the main figures in another 2014 breakout film, Alan Hicks’ touching documentary Keep On Keepin’ On. That film …

Charlie Sifford: the Jackie Robinson of Golf

Struggling to break the color barrier in the Professional Golfers Association five decades ago, Charlie Sifford got a tip from Jackie Robinson, who had done the same thing for Major League Baseball. “You can’t be going after these people who call you names with a golf club,” Robinson told him. “If you do that, you’ll ruin it for all of the black players to come.” That was sage advice because Sifford, who passed away on Feb. 3 at age 92 …

Rod McKuen: 10 Things You Might Not Know About the Pop Poet

Literary critics never had much love for Rod McKuen, who passed away on Jan. 30 at age 81 in Beverly Hills. Not that it mattered to his legions of fans. McKuen’s volumes of poetry, including Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows and Listen to the Warm, sold 60 million copies. In addition, McKuen was a prolific songwriter whose lyrics were interpreted by performers ranging from Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand to Johnny Cash. His own gravelly, breathy recording of “Jean,” which he composed for …