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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 surge of popularity in 1986, when director Rob Reiner borrowed the title for his film based on the Stephen King coming-of-age novella The Body and included the song in the film soundtrack.

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Here are some facts about Ben E. King and his most enduring masterpiece.

  • In a public television interview, King said he got the idea for “Stand by Me” after hearing a gospel song by Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers (probably “God Is Standing By”) and wrote it in about 20 minutes.
  • King originally rehearsed the song with the Drifters and offered it to them, but manager George Treadwell turned it down, saying that “it’s not a bad song, but we don’t need it.”
  • For a song with such longevity, it’s amazing that “Stand by Me” never reached the top of the Billboard charts, peaking at No. 4 in 1961.
  • Still, according to licensing organization BMI, “Stand by Me” was, with more than 7 million airplays, the fourth most-played song of the 20th century, after “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin,” “Never My Love” and “Yesterday.”
  • The middle initial “E” in his name stands for Earl.

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Here, King performs “Stand by Me” on TV in 1961.

Photo: Rex Features/AP Images

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