Stand By Me singer Ben E. King dies at 76

Ben E. King performing at the Songwriters Hall of Fame 2012 Annual Induction and Awards Ceremony in New York. King died of natural causes on Thursday. -- PHOTO: AFP
Ben E. King performing at the Songwriters Hall of Fame 2012 Annual Induction and Awards Ceremony in New York. King died of natural causes on Thursday. -- PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) - Ben E. King, the soul singer whose Gospel-influenced Stand By Me became one of the most broadcast songs of the 20th century, has died at 76, his spokesman said Friday.

King, who lived in New Jersey, died of natural causes on Thursday, spokesman Phil Brown told AFP.

R&B singer Gary U.S. Bonds, who had collaborated with King, wrote on Facebook that he was “one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years.”

King was born in North Carolina but moved as a child to New York City, where he had his start in doo wop and R&B. He initially wrote Stand By Me for another band before recording it himself.

Influenced by a traditional Gospel spiritual and a Psalm, the song was led by a now instantly identifiable bass line and featured chord progessions common in 1950s popular music.

The song was first released in 1961 but had several revivals and was covered hundreds of times in various genres.

Stand By Me went on to become the fourth most broadcast song on US radio and television in the 20th century, with more than seven million plays, according to songwriting company BMI.

The song inspired the 1986 movie Stand By Me, a coming-of-age drama directed by Rob Reiner, and appeared again in a jeans commercial.

The Library of Congress earlier this year chose Stand By Me for its National Recording Registry of “American treasures.”

In its announcement, the Library of Congress said that Stand By Me carried “perhaps the best known bassline in recording history” which was composed by songwriter Mike Stoller and played by Lloyd Trotman.

“But it was King’s incandescent vocal that made it a classic,” it said.

King remained active in his later life and kept touring. He also set up the Stand By Me Foundation, based in his home of Teaneck, New Jersey, that supported youth education.