05/01/2015 10:40 EDT | Updated 05/01/2016 05:12 EDT

Ben E. King, singer of Stand By Me, dead at 76

Ben E. King, the American rhythm and blues singer best known for his 1961 hit Stand By Me, died Thursday, his publicist told BBC News. He was 76.

Born in North Carolina in 1938, King moved to Harlem in New York City at age nine.

As a young man, he began recording with a doo wop group the Five Crowns, which would later become the Drifters.

Signed to Atlantic Records, the Drifters enjoyed a string of R&B hits including 1959's There Goes My Baby.

But King would find his biggest success when he struck out on his own, recording two hits in 1961 — first, the ballad Spanish Harlem and then the song that would become his signature, Stand by Me.

The song was voted one of the songs of the century by the Recording Industry Association of America. Its popularity enjoyed a resurgence when it was used in director Rob Reiner's the coming-of-age comedy-drama Stand by Me in 1986.

More to come