Westporters Remember Ben E King

Ben E King — who died yesterday in New Jersey at 76 — is being remembered for his smooth baritone, debonair style and classic love songs.

He was also, apparently, a really great man.

In 2013, Drew McKeon was a drummer with (coincidentally, fellow Westporter) Michael Bolton. They were booked for a charity gala at the Bushnell in Hartford.

King performed 2 songs with them: “Stand By Me” and “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

The legendary solo artist and former Drifters front man shook everyone’s hand with a smile, and repeated their names. “He was elegant and dapper,” recalls McKeon, a 2000 Staples grad. “We all immediately liked him.”

During a “Stand By Me” sound check, one of McKeon’s bandmates asked King which guitar part to play. “Whatever you’re doing sounds fantastic,” he replied. “Play whatever you feel. You’re a wonderful musician — all of you are.”

McKeon calls King “easily one of the sweetest and most humble people I’ve ever played with.”

The star told McKeon “the incredibly personal back story of wheelchair-bound Doc Pomus. He was inspired to write ‘Save the Last Dance For Me’ after watching his brother twirl Pomus’ newlywed wife from the sidelines at his own wedding.

“We’d done our homework on the tunes, so it went well,” recalls McKeon, a 2000 Staples grad. “But he acted as if it was better ‘service’ than he deserved. He was super gracious. He inspired me to play my best for him, like a true Little Drummer Boy.”

McKeon is not the only Staples alum with memories of King. Ryan O’Neill — who graduated in 1997 — did “Clash of the Choirs” with (again) Michael Bolton, and performed with the legendary artist.

“Mr. King was a generous and kind man,” O’Neill recalls. “He offered stories about his songs and his life. It was an honor to share the stage with such an icon.”

Ryan O'Neill and Ben E King

Ryan O’Neill and Ben E King

5 responses to “Westporters Remember Ben E King

  1. Susan Hopkins

    RIP Ben E. King. Thank you for the musical memories …. especially STAND BY ME.

  2. Bettina Gangi

    A fine person. Loved his songs and his voice. Tina G.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. The Rob Reiner film “Stand by Me” is exceptional, as the music from all the greats of the time brings the story together completely. Perfection.

    • I agree completely, Nancy. A fantastic coming-of-age film; superb soundtrack, all tied together with the title tune.

  4. Jeff Seaver

    An NPR story tonight reminded me what a joy it was that Ben E King and The Drifters, whose work had fallen by the pop-music machine wayside, enjoyed a rennaissance, thanks largely to Rob Reiner’s brilliant choice to use “Stand By Me” as the theme song for his terrific mid-80’s coming-of-age flick of the same name.

    After growing up practicing (not terribly well) doo-wop harmonies with friends for “This Magic Moment,” “Spanish Harlem,” and “Up On the Roof,” I am so pleased that thousands more fans got to enjoy the work of this lovely man – and it’s a pleasure to learn from Drew McKeon that Ben E King’s personality fit the smooth, welcoming voice.