Courtesy of Shock Ink
For over 5 decades, Ben E. King’s music has served as the soundtrack to the lives of millions. Whether through the yearning passion of “I (Who Have Nothing)” or the glaring optimism of “Spanish Harlem”, King’s relatable catalogue of songs offers listeners solace in times of distress and a renewed spirit in times of exuberance.
Nearing his 54th year in the music business, the legend’s work remains a source of inspiration for fans, as he continues to record albums and tour the country extensively.
“The love of what I do [keeps me going],” King comments on his commitment. “You enjoy music, you enjoy music, you enjoy music. That’s what my life is all about. I can’t live my life without it and I just can’t get away from it.”
King’s most recent album, “Heart and Soul”, hit shelves in late 2010 and displayed an intimate collection of material, teeming with the singer’s signature elegance. Though having penned thousands of tunes since the start of his career, he admits that delivering new concepts to his audience grows easier with age.
“It’s pretty easy now, because I’m not competing with anybody,” he lets out a sigh of relief. “No one my age is trying to become a rapper or the next Justin Timberlake. We have our own world where we can do things that we learned from other great singers, many years ago. It was my pleasure to have admired and learned from those singers when I was younger.”
Two of his most influential peers, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, imparted King with some of his greatest lessons learned, all the while catapulting his career into stratospheric heights. Throughout the 50’s and 60’s, the renowned songwriters, who also notably joined forces with Elvis Presley, partnered with the singer to work on the now classics, “Spanish Harlem”, “Stand By Me”, “I (Who Have Nothing)”, and “There Goes My Baby”, among others. At the time, however, neither Leiber and Stoller nor King anticipated the monumental impact that their efforts would produce.
“Working with Jerry and Mike,” King recounts, “was magic, because they went far beyond just songwriting. They had in them creative music, great talent, and great arrangements. What impressed me most about them was their talent. They were so different from all the other arrangements that I had to work with. You almost didn’t care about the expectation of having a great hit, because you were enjoying the moment so much. When you were doing it, it was great, it was different, and you weren’t copying anybody else’s style. You weren’t trying to be anybody but yourself.”
King’s time with Leiber and Stoller spawned perhaps the most recognized and widely-covered track in music history: “Stand By Me”. The single continues to resonate with today’s mainstream audiences, and has influenced the likes of John Lennon, Enrique Iglesias , Bono, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Sting, Bon Jovi, Prince Royce, and countless more.
“You never anticipate how a song is going to fare,” he comments. “The first thing you hope for when you record, is that the public will like it the same way you do. But I still can’t believe the success it’s had. I just spoke to Prince Royce, who recently covered the song, and he did a wonderful job.”
Having achieved the acclaim of “Stand By Me” early in his career fueled the legendary performer to stay consistent as an artist. 50 years later, his work remains the number one priority in his life, as he wraps up his “Heart and Soul” promotional tour. On his last stop, the icon is slated to perform alongside such artists as Jon Bon Jovi, Alicia Keys, and Bettye LaVette at the Apollo in the Hamptons Benefit.
“It is exciting,” he says of his upcoming stint. “I’ve never met Jon Bon Jovi or Alicia Keys, but I admire the talent of both of them. I think we all look forward to meeting each other, because we’ve all heard so much about one another over the years. It’s going to be a fun night.”
Through his commitment, dedication, and consistency, the singer continues to make ripples in an ever-changing music community. Above all, King’s experiences have taught him the power of passion.
“You learn how to enjoy your talent and enjoy your life along the way,” he says. “Just enjoy what the music is.”
Credit: Ben E. King, Elaine Schock
© Veronika Tacheva, 2011. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from the author is strictly prohibited.