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BELL SOUND, 237 West 54th Street







In 1961 The Drifters found themselves locked into a contract that paid them only $125 a week, despite having a number one record. The band went to see Manager George Treadwell to ask for a raise, and elected Ben E King to be the spokesman, thinking he wouldn't fire the lead singer. 


“He told me instead of me standing up to speak for the group to speak for yourself, and so I did. And he fired me,” said King. “I walked out of the office assuming that the other guys would follow, and they didn't”


Atlantic Records President Jerry Wrexler signed King as a solo act and paired him with songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Their first recording session was at Bell Sound Studios on October 27, 1960.

Ben E King promotional photograph,1961

© Maurice Seymour/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

After recording three songs, including ‘Spanish Harlem’, there was about 20 minutes of session time left. Leiber and Stoller asked King if had any other songs to record. King had been working on a song inspired by the Soul Stirrers “Stand By Me Father”, but he only had the first few lines written.


“I said, ‘Let me hear it.’” recalls Mike Stoller. “Ben began to sing the song acapella. I walked over to my piano and came up with a bass pattern. When Jerry Lieber heard it, he shouted: "That's it – that's a hit!"


Wexler was unimpressed. The session had gone into overtime in the studio with an expensive orchestra, costing him over $14,000.


With its gospel roots,  a 50s doo-wop chord progression, and Afro-Cuban percussion,  “Stand By Me” became a Top Ten hit twice—first in June 1961, and again in December 1986.


In 1999, BMI named it as the fourth most-performed song of the 20th century, with over 400 recorded versions, and approximately seven million performances. 


King shared songwriting credit with Lieber and Stoller (who used the pseudonym “Elmo Glick”). It’s estimated that the royalties have exceeded $17 million, half of which was paid to King.

At its height, Bell Sound Studios was the largest independent recording studio in the United States. Three studios, four editing rooms, five mastering rooms, and a film room, took up the entire building. Even if a record was recorded at another studio, it often ended up edited, mixed, mastered, and the lacquers cut for pressing at Bell Sound.


By the early 70’s the studio was facing financial difficulties. It stopped operating in 1976, and filed for bankruptcy in 1977.


In 1981, The Hit Factory took over the space, naming it Hit Factory Broadway. Albums recorded there include Paul Simon's "Graceland" and Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors".


The Hit Factory consolidated its New York studios into a custom-built facility in Hell’s Kitchen in 1992 and closed the Broadway location in 2002.


The building was demolished in 2011.


The three-star Hilton Garden Inn opened in 2013 with 377 rooms, a fitness center, and the Empire Steak House restaurant on the ground floor. Each room is equipped with a microwave, refrigerator, and coffee machine.


The rate for a King room with a city view is around $500 per night. Online reviews from recent guests mention long waits for the elevators, missing pajamas, and an overpowering smell of marijuana.

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