In 1958, Ben E. King joined a doo-wop group called the Five Crowns. Later that year, the
Drifters' manager George Treadwell fired the members of the original Drifters, and replaced them with the
members of the Five Crowns.
King had a string of R&B hits with the group on Atlantic
Records. He co-wrote and sang lead on the first Atlantic hit by the new version of the Drifters, "There Goes My
Baby" (1959). He sang lead on a succession of hits by the team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, including "Save the
Last Dance for Me", "This Magic Moment", and "I Count the Tears". King recorded only thirteen songs with the
Drifters—two backing other lead singers and eleven lead vocal performances—including a non-single called
"Temptation" (later redone by Drifters vocalist Johnny Moore). The last of the King-led Drifters singles to be
released was "Sometimes I Wonder", which was recorded May 19, 1960, but not issued until June 1962.
Due to contract disputes with Treadwell in which King and his
manager, Lover Patterson, demanded greater compensation, King rarely performed with the Drifters on tour or on
television. On television, fellow Drifters member Charlie Thomas usually lip-synched the songs that King had
recorded with the Drifters.
n May 1960, King left the Drifters, assuming the stage name Ben E.
King in preparation for a solo career. Remaining with Atlantic Records on its Atco imprint, King scored his first
solo hit with the ballad "Spanish Harlem" (1961).
His next single, "Stand by Me", written with Jerry Leiber and Mike
Stoller, ultimately would be voted as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of
America. King cited singers Brook Benton, Roy Hamilton and Sam Cooke as influences for his vocals of the song.
"Stand by Me", "There Goes My Baby", "Spanish Harlem", and "Save the Last Dance for Me" were all named in the Rock
and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll; and each of those records has earned a Grammy Hall
of Fame Award. King's other well-known songs include "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)", "Amor", "Seven Letters",
"How Can I Forget", "On the Horizon", "Young Boy Blues", "First Taste of Love", "Here Comes the Night", "Ecstasy",
and "That's When It Hurts". In the summer of 1963, King had a Top 30 hit with "I (Who Have Nothing)", which reached
the Top 10 on New York's radio station, WMCA.
King's records continued to place well on the Billboard Hot 100
chart until 1965. British pop bands began to dominate the pop music scene, but King still continued to make R&B
hits, including "What is Soul?" (1966), "Tears, Tears, Tears" (1967), and "Supernatural Thing" (1975).
King returned to the Drifters in late 1982 in England, and sang
with them until the group's break-up and reorganization in 1986. From 1983 until the band's break-up, the other
members of this incarnation of the Drifters were Johnny Moore, Joe Blunt, and Clyde Brown.
A 1986 re-issue of "Stand by Me" followed the song's use as the
theme song to the movie Stand By Me and re-entered the Billboard Top Ten after a 25-year absence. This reissue also
reached Number 1 in the United Kingdom and Ireland for three weeks in February 1987.
In 1990, King and Bo Diddley, along with Doug Lazy, recorded a
revamped hip hop version of the Monotones' 1958 hit song "Book of Love" for the soundtrack of the movie Book of
Love. He also recorded a children's album, I Have Songs In My Pocket, written and produced by children's music
artist Bobby Susser in 1998, which won the Early Childhood News Directors' Choice Award and Dr. Toy's/the Institute
for Childhood Resources Award. King performed "Stand by Me" on the Late Show with David Letterman in 2007. Ahmet
Ertegun said, "King is one of the greatest singers in the history of rock and roll and rhythm and
As a Drifter and as a solo artist, King had achieved five number
one hits: "There Goes My Baby", "Save the Last Dance for Me", "Stand By Me", "Supernatural Thing", and the 1986
re-issue of "Stand By Me". He also earned 12 Top 10 hits and 26 Top 40 hits from 1959 to 1986. He was inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a Drifter; he was also nominated as a solo artist.
King performing at Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 31,
2012 King's "I (Who Have Nothing)" was selected for the Sopranos Peppers and Eggs
Soundtrack CD (2001).
King was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in
On March 27, 2012, the Songwriters Hall of Fame announced that
"Stand By Me" would receive its 2012 Towering Song Award and that King would be honored with the 2012 Towering
Performance Award for his recording of the song.