It’s sad to say goodbye to Ben E. King, who died Thursday at the age of 76.
King, whose name at birth was really Benjamin Earl Nelson, made the song Stand By Me famous.
When I read that Stand By Me was a concept King had tucked away, almost forgotten until King was casually questioned by Leiber and Stoller at the end of a writing session about any other song ideas he might have, it’s a reminder of the lasting importance of small moments and that “hits” often (always?) happen for reasons that are beyond our control.
The story goes that Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler harbored a grudge against Stand By Me because hiring the orchestra turned out to be overly expensive.
Odd thought, given the enduring success of that original recording. We too often obsess over the momentary cost without considering the possible long-term payoff. Although it is weird to see King lip synching it here in a room that contains many more dancing-challenged white teenagers than orchestral string players.
The New York Times obituary included this King quote: “I still think my whole career was accidental. I didn’t pursue it. I feel like I’m cheating sometimes.”
But there’s no doubt King had true talent and a legitimate, lasting effect. Back in 2008 this tremendously impressive global rendition of Stand By Me was pieced together by the organization Playing for Change.
All of this came about because a guy with the unusual name of Lover Patterson was persistent about finding talent in Harlem and kept returning to the luncheonette run by Ben E. King’s father, asking if there were any young guys around who could sing.
Turns out there was at least one.
Can you sing?