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'Stand By Me' soul singer Ben E. King dies

Ben E. King co-wrote and sang one of the most broadcast songs of the 20th century. The soul and R&B artist, formerly a member of the Drifters, died of natural causes on Thursday. Tributes have begun to pour in.

King's publicist Phil Brown confirmed on Friday that the 76-year-old soul singer had died the previous day, saying that he was still getting details.

"He passed away on Thursday," Brown said.

Collaborator and R&B singer Barry U.S. Bonds wrote on Facebook that King was "one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 years."

Born in North Carolina, King moved to New York City as a child, where he had his start in doo-wop and R&B. He began his career with The Five Crowns, a doo-wop group that later became The Drifters.

The group, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, had a string of hits with Atlantic Records. He co-wrote and sang lead on "There Goes My Baby", "Save the Last Dance for Me" and "This Magic Moment" before leaving the group in a contract dispute. His first solo hit, in 1961 was "Spanish Harlem."

He had initially co-written "Stand By Me" for another singer, before later recording it himself as a solo artist. The song was first released in 1961 but was re-released several times and covered in various genres on scores of occasions.

According to songwriting company BMI, "Stand By Me" went on to become the fourth-most broadcast song on US radio and television in the 20th century, also inspiring Rob Reiner's 1986 movie of the same title.

The Library of Congress chose the song for its National Recording Registry of "American Treasures." In its announcement earlier this year, the Library of Congress said it carried "perhaps the best-known bassline in recording history," which was composed by songwriter Mike Stoller and played by Lloyd Trotman.

"But it was King's incandescent vocal that made it a classic," the statement added.

The 76-year-old, who continued touring later in life and founded the "Stand By Me" charitbale foundation, lived in New Jersey. The foundation focuses on work with impoverished youths, in areas such as poverty, substance abuse, child abuse, neglect, teen pregnancy and domestic violence; it also aims to help disadvantaged youths fund further education.

msh/jil (AFP, AP, Reuters)