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Ben E. King Biography

Ben E. King Tickets

Ben E. King In-depth Biography

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}. 2006 saw the release of a brand new album, I've Been Around}, on True Life Records}. ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide

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