Ben E. King
More than thirty years after making his first musical mark with The Drifters, Ben E. King’s voice remains one of the most expressive instruments in musical history. Time and experience has brought added nuances and shading to his gift and when he sings, there’s nothing like it in the world.
Born in Henderson, North Carolina, this Artist had his first formal experience in hometown church choirs. Later, his family moved to New York City’s Harlem and it was there that Ben E. founded his first group while attending James Fenimore Junior High. The group was called The Four B’s (for Ben E., Billy, Billy & Bobby). They were neighborhood buddies and marked Ben E.’s first singing experience outside of gospel music. "The best that I could get out of that group, though," Ben E. recalls, "was marrying Betty, the sister of brothers Billy and Bobby". A series of groups and performances followed. That area of the city, from 110th to 125th Streets, was hotbed of street music. "I even had a chance to be one of The Moonglows," he notes, "very few people know about that. I fit in, but I just wasn’t experienced enough to go through with it". Then, one day in 1959, Ben E. was singing in his father’s restaurant and the manager of a group called The Five Crowns stopped in. That was really when it all began to happen for Ben E. King.
While rock n’ roll devotees may fondly recall the early years of The Drifters, between 1953 and 1958, it is still the two year period of 1958 to 1960, when Ben E. King sang lead with the group, that endures as their "golden age". In 1959, the original Drifters had disbanded, leaving their manager with a recording contract to fulfill, as well as long term performance contract for annual appearances at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. A promising young group known as The Five Crowns, with the new addition of Ben E. King (not yet 21) was chosen to take The Drifters name and step into their shoes.
"There Goes My Baby", the first single record by The "new" Drifters, became the first record by the group to reach the Top 5 on both the R&B and Pop charts. In addition to singing lead, Ben E. co-wrote the tune.
Many critics and music observers insist that it was Ben E.’s gospel-rooted, high pitched vocal delivery both with The Drifters and then on his own, that has influenced every high tenor R&B vocalist to come along since.
After a slew of hits with The Drifters including, "Dance With Me", "This Magic Moment" and "Save The Last Dance For Me", fate intervened with a mid-winter snowstorm that would change Ben E.’s career forever. The weather prevented the other three Drifters from attending a session. The musicians, engineers and recording personnel decided not to waste the time and allowed Ben E. to record two songs. The first single, "Spanish Harlem", which became one of the biggest hits of 1961. Ben E. was honored as the outstanding vocalist of the year for this single and "Stand By Me", which was his next hit, going straight to Number 1 on the charts and was re-released in 1986, when the movie of the same name was in theaters. An entire new generation of fans were privy to the voice that responsible for such classics as, "Amor", "Don’t Play That Song", "Supernatural Thing" and "Do It In The Name Of Love", just to mention a few.
Although Ben E. has spent mostly all of his time over the last few years touring and writing, he still has found the time for other industry related projects. Recent appearances on ‘Good Morning America’, ‘Late Night with David Letterman’ and re-recording of songs used in television commercials such as "Stand By Me" and "This Magic Moment" have occupied much of Ben E’s time. Many of his activities have taken him overseas, one of which is a recording project in Japan, as well as numerous Asian and European tours.
Ben E.’s last album, "What’s Important To Me" is an album of perfectly crafted songs and must be added to the list of Ben E’s recording successes. The first single released from that album entitled, "You’ve Got All Of Me", showcased the song writing talent and unmistakable voice that can only belong to Ben E. King. In addition to the outstanding tracks, "So Important" and "You Still Love Me", Ben E. pays tribute to another music legend, Curtis Mayfield, with his rendition of Curtis’ "It’s All Right".
On tour much of the year, Ben E. King is an Artist’s Artist and audiences around the world love him.