Legendary Performer Ben E. King Wows Landmark Audience

His hit song, “Stand by Me,” celebrates its 50th anniversary

There is something really special about a concert where the audience knows all the songs and sings along. Such was the case on Saturday, May 21, when Ben E. King performed a hit-packed, feel-good concert at .

ben-e-king-64d172dbe6a84d0b3f03d925b9312227The concert began with about 15 minutes of instrumental music – light jazz and blues – performed by King’s talented guitarist, bass player, drummer, pianist, trumpet player and saxophonist. The musicians were all highly talented, and took turns showing off their proficiency with high-energy solos. After the warm up, King took the stage, followed after a song or two by two female back-up singers who did as much swaying, hand waving, and shimmying, as they did singing.

King, former lead singer for The Drifters, and a renowned solo artist in his own right, has been performing for well over half a century, and still sounds great. A consummate performer, King worked the crowd like the pro he is, getting them to clap, yell, and sing along. Singing along was easy for the majority of the audience – after all, most of the songs King performed were classics from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Among the songs King covered: “On Broadway” (a hit for The Drifters in 1963 and for George Benson in 1978), “Up on the Roof” (released by both The Drifters and James Taylor), “There Goes My Baby,” “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” “This Magic Moment,” and “Save The Last Dance for Me.” A high point was King’s performance of “Spanish Harlem,” his first solo recording after leaving The Drifters.

There was much audience participation, particularly during “Under the Boardwalk,” when King told the harmonizing audience that “you sound like a lot of Drifters and one Tom Jones!” But by far, the pinnacle of the evening was King’s amazing performance of his hit, “Stand by Me,” which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary. His rendition of it now was as powerful as ever, and made even more spectacular by the way he and his band managed to meld three other (unlikely) songs into it to create a medley. Starting with “Stand by Me,” King segued into two Sam Cooke songs – “(What a) Wonderful World” and “Cupid” – followed by the improbable “You are My Sunshine.” I’m not sure how it all worked together… but it did.

King closed the show with two Wilson Pickett songs – “In The Midnight Hour” and “Mustang Sally” – and left the crowd wanting more, more, more.

The last concert of Landmark’s 2010-2011 season will be Lucie Arnaz in “Latin Roots” on Saturday, June 18.