Ben E. King, the smooth, soulful baritone who led the Drifters on “There Goes My Baby,” “Save the Last Dance for Me” and other hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and as a solo artist recorded the classic singles “Spanish Harlem” and “Stand by Me,” died on Thursday in Hackensack, N.J. He was 76.
His lawyer, Judy Tint, said Mr. King, who lived in Teaneck, N.J., died at Hackensack University Medical Center after a brief illness, offering no further details.
Mr. King was working in his father’s Harlem luncheonette in 1956 when a local impresario, Lover Patterson, overheard him singing to himself and persuaded him to join a group he managed, the Five Crowns.
Lightning struck when the group, then known as the Crowns, performed at the Apollo Theater on a bill with the original Drifters in 1958 and attracted the attention of George Treadwell, who managed the Drifters and owned the name.
Mr. Treadwell had been feuding with his group, which had entered a lean period after Clyde McPhatter, its lead singer, was drafted into the Army in late 1954. He fired the Drifters en masse and replaced them with Mr. King and three of his fellow singers.
“There Goes My Baby,” released in 1959, reached No. 2 on the pop charts. It was followed by “Dance With Me,” “This Magic Moment,” “I Count the Tears,” “Lonely Winds” and “Save the Last Dance for Me,” a No. 1 hit.
Mr. King left the Drifters in 1960 and embarked on a successful solo career. “Spanish Harlem,” written by Mr. Leiber with Phil Spector, reached the Top 10 that year. “Stand by Me,” which Mr. King helped write, reached the Top 10 in 1961 and again in 1986, when it was used in the soundtrack of the Rob Reiner film of the same name.Photo