17 March 1857 - 7 April 1894 / St. Joseph, Michigan
King was born at St. Joseph, Michigan, March 17, 1857, and died while on a speaking tour at Bowling Green, Kentucky, April 7, 1894. He was married November 27, 1883 to Aseneth Belle Latham, of St. Joseph, Michigan, and the couple had two children, Bennett Latham King and Spencer P. King, aged nine and five, respectively, at the time of his death.
King billed himself as "Ben King, the Sweet Singer of St. Joe". He first came to prominence for a concert given during the World's Columbian Exposition. Introduced to the Press Club of Chicago, he was quickly picked up by Opie Read, who invited King to tour with him, reading his poetry with piano accompaniment.
According to a short biography by Opie Read, as a child he was reputed a piano prodigy; in adult life he was by many deemed a failure for his lack of business instinct. But as a poet, a gentle satirist and a humorist of the highest order, he achieved notability in his short life for a series of newspaper published poems. He appears to have been a favorite of the Press Club of Chicago, and that organisation published a posthumous collection of his works, Ben King's verse, in 1894, comparing him with Thomas Hood, a then famous English humorist and poet. In the next quarter century, the book reputedly outsold any other single volume of verses in Michigan.
He is buried in the St. Joseph City Cemetery. A monument erected in Lake Bluff Park, Berrien County, Michigan in 1924 features a bronze bust of King created by Chicago sculptor Leonard Crunelle. On the granite monument base are lines his poem "The River St. Joe":
Where the bumblebee sips and the clover's in bloom,
and the zephyr's come laden with peachblow perfume.
Where the thistle-down pauses in search of the rose
and the myrtle and woodbine and wild ivy grows;
Oh, give me the spot that I once used to know
by the side of the placid old River St. Joe!
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