NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soul and R&B singer Ben E. King, famous for his deep, velvety baritone voice and the classic hit song "Stand by Me," died of natural causes in New Jersey at the age of 76, his representative said on Friday.
"He passed away on Thursday," said publicist Phil Brown, adding funeral arrangements would be announced within days.
King was born in North Carolina and moved to Harlem, New York, as a child. He began his career in the doo-wop group The Five Crowns, which later became The Drifters, before branching out as a solo artist.
"With an extremely heavy heart, I must say goodbye to one of the sweetest, gentlest and gifted souls that I have had the privilege of knowing and calling my friend for more than 50 year years, Mr Ben E. King," R&B singer Gary U.S. Bonds said on Facebook.
The Drifters had a string of hits with Atlantic Records and were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. King co-wrote and sang the lead on the group's first hit, "There Goes My Baby," in 1959.
He also was the lead vocalist with the group on songs such as "Save the Last Dance for Me," "This Magic Moment," "Dance With Me" and "I Count the Tears."
After a contractual dispute, King began a solo career in 1960 and recorded his best-known song, "Stand By Me," which was voted one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. King, along with Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, wrote the 1961 hit.
The song, which is featured in and provided the title for the 1986 film "Stand by Me" by director Rob Reiner, was also inducted by the Library of Congress into the National Recording Registry. King had five No. 1 hits with The Drifters and as a solo artist.
King is survived by his wife, Betty, three children and six grandchildren.
Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Steve Orlofsky and Ted Botha