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.”