By Lorraine Kay
LANCASTER — Known for his expressive vocals and for his early years with The Drifters, Ben E. King remains one of the most influential R&B voices in music history. He will be performing some of the tunes that helped him make history next Saturday night, May 5th, at 8:00 p.m. at the Lancaster Performing Arts Center (LPAC).
Many years after making his first musical mark with the Drifters, King still brings down the house with songs like “On Broadway”, “Under the Boardwalk”, and “Stand By Me”. Even before the Drifters, King found satisfaction in singing. Born in Henderson, NC, he had his first formal musical experience in hometown church choirs. Later, his family moved to New York, and he was discovered while working in his father’s restaurant by the manager of the Five Crowns, Lover Patterson.
Many critics and music observers agree that it was King’s gospel-rooted, high pitched vocal delivery that made the years between 1953 and 1958 the “Golden Age” of the Drifters. Since that time he has influenced every tenor, R&B vocalist to come along.
In 1961, after a wealth of hits with the Drifters, King recorded “Spanish Harlem” as a soloist. The song became one of year’s biggest hits, earning King the title of the “outstanding vocalist of the year”. Stand By Me, his next hit went straight to number 1 on the charts. When it was re-released in 1986 along with the movie of the same name, an entire new generation of fans was introduced tot he voice that was responsible for such hits as “Amore”, “The Magic Moment”, “Save The Last Dance For Me”, and “There Goes My Baby”. “Stand By Me” has also been used in many commercials by major corporations including City Bank and most recently by Buick. Walt Disney Pictures recently made “Stand By Me” into an animated short film with the characters from “Lion King”.
King was one of the original inductees of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH. He continues to tour world-wide, making frequent television appearances. He performed at President Clinton’s inauguration and recently made a special guest appearance on Broadway in “Smokey Joe’s Café.”
King is also the founder and head of the Ben E. King’s Stand By Me Foundation, which generates funds for musical scholarships, educational programs, and other support for young people in need. He recently started performing with many symphony orchestras throughout North America including the National Symphony on their July 4, 1996 PBS Special.