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The Ben E. King Stand By Me Foundation (TM)

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From the groundbreaking orchestrated productions of the Drifters to his own solo hits, Ben E. King was the definition of R&B elegance. King's plaintive baritone had all the passion of gospel, but the settings in which it was displayed were tailored more for his honey smooth phrasing and crisp enunciation, proving for perhaps the first time that R&B could be sophisticated and accessible to straight pop audiences. King's approach influenced countless smooth soul singers in his wake and his records were key forerunners of the Motown sound.

King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, NC, in 1938, and sang with his church choir before the family moved to Harlem in 1947. In junior high, he began performing with a street corner doo wop group called the Four B's, which won second place in an Apollo Theater talent contest. While still in high school, he was offered a chance to join the Moonglows, but was simply too young and inexperienced to stick. He subsequently worked at his father's restaurant as a singing waiter, which led to an invitation to become the baritone singer in a doo wop outfit called the Five Crowns in 1958. The Five Crowns performed several gigs at the Apollo Theater along with the Drifters, whose career had begun to flounder in the years since original lead singer Clyde McPhatter departed. Drifters manager George Treadwell, dissatisfied with the group members' unreliability and lack of success, fired them all in the summer of 1958 and hired the Five Crowns to assume the name of the Drifters (which he owned).

The new Drifters toured for about a year, playing to often hostile audiences who knew they were a completely different group. In early 1959, they went into the studio with producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to cut their first records. A song Nelson (still performing under his given name) co-wrote called "There Goes My Baby" became his first lead vocal and the lush backing arrangement made highly unorthodox (in fact, virtually unheard-of) use of a string section. "There Goes My Baby" became a massive hit, laying the groundwork for virtually every smooth/uptown soul production that followed. Over the next two years, Nelson sang lead on several other Drifters classics, including "Dance With Me," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me," and "I Count the Tears."

In 1960, Nelson approached Treadwell about a salary increase and a fairer share of the group's royalties. Treadwell rebuffed him and Nelson quit the group, at this point assuming the more memorable stage name Ben E. King in preparation for a solo career. Remaining on Atlantic, King scored his first solo hit with the stylish, Latin-tinged ballad "Spanish Harlem," a Jerry Leiber/Phil Spector composition that hit the Top Ten in early 1961. The follow-up, "Stand By Me," a heartfelt ode to friendship and devotion co-written by King, became his signature song and an enduring R&B classic; it was also his biggest hit, topping the R&B charts and reaching the pop Top Five. King scored a few more chart singles through 1963, including velvety smooth pop-soul productions like "Amor," "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)," and the Italian tune "I (Who Have Nothing)." In the post-British Invasion years, King had a rough go of it on the pop charts but continued to score R&B hits. 1967's Southern-fried "What Is Soul?" was one of his last singles for Atco; seeking to revive his commercial fortunes, King departed in 1969.

A 1970 album on Maxwell, Rough Edges, failed to generate much attention, and King was forced to make a living touring the oldies circuit. In 1975, Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun caught King's act in a Miami lounge and invited him to re-sign with the label. King scored an unlikely comeback smash with the disco track "Supernatural Thing, Part I," which returned him to the top of the R&B charts in 1975 and also reached the pop Top Five. While he was unable to duplicate that single's success, King recorded several more albums for Atlantic up through 1981, and also collaborated with the Average White Band in 1977 on the album Benny & Us. After leaving Atlantic a second time, King toured in a version of the Drifters beginning in 1982. In 1986, "Stand By Me" was prominently featured in the Rob Reiner film of the same name; re-released as a single, it climbed into the Top Ten all over again. In its wake, King returned to solo recording, issuing a new album every few years all the way up through the '90s. He also guested on recordings by Heaven 17 and Mark Knopfler, among others. King's 1999 album Shades of Blue (on Half Note Records) found him branching out into jazz territory, performing with a big band and guests like Milt Jackson and David "Fathead" Newman. -- Steve Huey, All Music Guide

Mister King passed away April 30th, 2015. 


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1961Spanish Harlem
1962Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers
1962Don't Play That Song
1965Seven Letters
1967What Is Soul
1970Rough Edges
1971The Beginning of it All
1975Supernatural Thing
1976I Had a Love
1977Benny & Us
1978Let Me Live in Your Life
1980Music Trance
1981Street Tough
1988Save the Last Dance for Me
1992What's Important To Me
1999Shades of Blue
2002The Beginning of It All


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1961 Spanish Harlem

01. Amor
02. Sway
03. Come Closer to Me
04. Perfidia
05. Granada
06. Sweet and Gentle
07. Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps
08. Frenesi
09. Souvenir of Mexico
10. Besame Mucho
11. Love Me, Love Me
12. Spanish Harlem
13. How Often
14. A Help Each Other Romance
15. Tell Daddy
16. Too Bad
17. Walking in the Footsteps of a Fool
18. Gloria Gloria
19. Auf Wiederseh'n, My Dear
20. How Can I Forget

1962 Ben E. King Sings for Soulful Lovers

01. My Heart Cries for You
02. He Will Break Your Heart
03. Dream Lover
04. Will You Love Me Tomorrow
05. My Foolish Heart
06. Fever
07. Moon River
08. What a Difference a Day Made
09. Because of You
10. At Last
11. On the Street Where You Live
12. It's All in the Game
13. I Could Have Danced All Night
14. Gypsy
15. I (Who Have Nothing)
16. The Beginning of Time
17. What Now My Love
18. Groovin'
19. Don't Play That Song
20. Stand by Me
21. What'd I Say

1962 Don't Play That Song

01. Don't Play That Song (You Lied)
02. Ecstasy
03. On the Horizon
04. Show Me the Way
05. Here Comes the Night
06. First Taste of Love
07. Stand by Me
08. Yes
09. Young Boy Blues
10. The Hermit of Misty Mountain
11. I Promise Love
12. Brace Yourself

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1965 Seven Letters

01. Seven Letters
02. River of Tears
03. I'm Standing By
04. Jamaica
05. Down Home
06. Si Senor
07. It's All Over
08. Let the Water Run Down
09. This Is My Dream
10. It's No Good for Me
11. In the Middle of the Night
12. Don't Drive Me Away

1967 What Is Soul

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1970 Rough Edges

01. She Lets Her Hair Down
02. Little Green Apples
03. Wishing for Tomorrow
04. If You've Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody
05. Come Together
06. One Man
07. In the Midnight Hour
08. Lay Lady Lay
09. Don't Let Me Down
10. Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You

1971 The Beginning of it All

01. Take Me to the Pilot
02. I Guess It's Goodbye
03. Travelin' Woman
04. Love Is
05. Into the Mystic
06. White Moon
07. Love Is Gonna Get You
08. The Beginning of It All
09. Only You and I Know
10. All of Your Tomorrows
11. She Does It Right

1975 Supernatural Thing

01. Supernatural Thing, Pt. 1
02. Supernatural Thing, Pt. 2
03. Your Lovin' Ain't Good Enough
04. Drop My Heart Off
05. Do It in the Name of Love
06. Happiness Is Where You Find It
07. Do You Wanna Do a Thing
08. Imagination
09. What Do You Want Me to Do?

1976 I Had a Love

1977 Benny & Us

01. Get It Up For Love
02. Fool For You Anyway
03. Someday We'll All Be Free
04. Imagine
05. Keepin' It To Myself
06. Fire Burning
07. What Is Soul
08. A Star In The Ghetto
09. The Message

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1978 Let Me Live in Your Life

01. Tippin'
02. Wonder Woman
03. Let Me Live in Your Life
04. I See the Light
05. Fly Away
06. Dark Storm on the Horizon
07. Family Jewels
08. Sweet Rhapsody
09. Spoiled
10. Fifty Years

1980 Music Trance

01. Music Trance
02. And This Is Love
03. Touched by Your Love
04. You've Only Got One Chance to Be Yourself
05. Hired Gun
06. Everyday
07. Work That Body

1981 Street Tough

01. Street Tough
02. Made for Each Other
03. Staying Power
04. Stay a While With Me
05. Why Is the Question
06. You Made the Difference to My Life
07. Souvenirs of Love
08. Something to Be Loved

1988 Save the Last Dance for Me

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1992 What's Important To Me

01. It's Your Love (That Makes Me Happy)
02. You've Got All of Me
03. Major Malfunction
04. You Still Move Me
05. She's Gone Again
06. So Important to Me
07. You Can Count on Me
08. It's All Right
09. I'm Gonna Be Somebody

1996 Drifters

01. Stand by Me
02. Spanish Harlem
03. I (Who Have Nothing)
04. Don't Play That Song (You Lied)
05. Up on the Roof (w/The Drifters)
06. Save the Last Dance for Me(w/The Drifters)
07. This Magic Moment(w/The Drifters)
08. On Broadway(w/The Drifters)

1999 Shades of Blue

01. Little Mama
02. You're Drivin' Me Crazy
03. Just for a Thrill
04. They Can't Take That Away from Me
05. Hallelujah, I Love Her So
06. Song for Jennie
07. There'll Be Some Changes Made
08. Stairway to the Stars
09. You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To
10. I Want a Little Girl
11. Baby Won't You Please Come Home
12. Cry
13. Learnin' the Blues

2002 The Beginning of It All

01. Take Me to the Pilot
02. I Guess It's Goodbye
03. Travelin' Women
04. Love Is
05. Into the Mystic
06. White Moon
07. Love Is Gonna Get You
08. The Beginning of It All
09. Only You Know and I Know
10. All of Your Tomorrows
11. She Does It Right
12. Audio Biography

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