Born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, North Carolina - and raised in Harlem - Ben E. is best known as the singer and co-composer of "Stand by Me," a U.S. Top 10 hit in both 1961 and 1987 and a #1 hit in the UK in 1987. He also was one of the principal lead singers of the R&B vocal group The Drifters.
In 1958, King joined a doo-wop group called The Five Crowns. Later that year, The Drifters' manager fired the members of the group and replaced them with The Five Crowns, who had performed several engagements with the Drifters.
King co-wrote the first hit by the new version of the Drifters, "There Goes My Baby." He also sang lead (using his birth name,) on "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Dance With Me," "This Magic Moment," "I Count the Tears" and "Lonely Winds."
King only recorded ten songs with The Drifters, including "Temptation" which was later redone by Johnny Moore. King's career with The Drifters was so brief after "There Goes My Baby" hit the charts, he was never again given a chance to perform with the group over an argument about King's contract.
After the dispute settled, King was hired only to sing until they found a replacement. On television, a fellow Drifters member Charlie Thomas usually lip-synched the songs that King recorded with the Drifters.
In May 1960, he left the Drifters after failing to gain a salary increase and a fairer share of the group's royalties. At this point he starting using the stage name Ben E. King which he believed would be more memorable as he embarked on his solo career. He was right. King scored his first solo hit with the ballad "Spanish Harlem."
"Stand by Me" was his next recording. Written by King along with Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, "Stand by Me" was voted as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. "Stand by Me", "There Goes My Baby" and "Spanish Harlem" were named as three of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll and were all given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award, as well as "Save The Last Dance For Me."
In the summer of 1963, King had a top 30 national hit with "I (Who Have Nothing)," a song that reached the Top 10 on New York's radio station, WMCA.