B.B King is the KING OF BLUES, and as his birthday nears we remember the long and fulfilling life that he led. We celebrate his life and all the wonderful music that he created as well as all that he did as an activist, he was truly an icon and a living legend. As we celebrate his nearly 90-year life we also celebrate Willie King, Riley King jr. , Barbara Winfrey Karen Williams, Rita Washington, Shirley Peterson, Michelle Seroy, Robert Edwards, Claudette Robinson.Ruby Davis Patty King, Eric Mitchell, Leonard King. Krystal Young and Quincy King. All of these names meant a lot to B.B and as we celebrate his reign as King of the blues we also recognize those close to him.
He was born into a farming family on September 16, 1925, in Itta Bena, Mississippi. He became a very important figure for rock guitarists and an important consolidator of blues styles. After his service in the U.S Army, he decided to hitchhike to Memphis, Tennessee to pursue his music career. It was a very risky move for him to move to the south at the time, but as an avid activist, he felt obligated to pave the path for future musicians. At the time anyone who wanted to become an important musician would travel to Memphis. Once he landed in his new city he began his career as a disc jockey where he gained his nickname, “the Beale Street Blues Boy”, which would then be shortened to “B.B”. When B.B first moved to Memphis he stayed with his cousin Bukka White, which was a very prominent blues performer at the time and would educate B.B on the world of blues.
The first breakthrough in B.B’s career came in 1948 after performing on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM out of West Memphis. After that radio performance, he began his first steady gig at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis which led to a ten-minute spot on the black staffed and managed Memphis radio station, WDIA. King did his first recording in 1949 which led to a 12-year relationship with Kent/RPM/Modern. It was with them that he recorded a string of Rhythm and blues hits such as “You Know I Love You”, “Woke Up This Morning” and “Three O’Clock Blues”, which climbed to No. 1 on the R&B charts and would later become his first national hit in 1951. He began touring night clubs shortly after and would average over 300 annual performances for the next century. In 1962, King signed with ABC Records, which opened the door for many opportunities. Under ABC Records, he released Live at the Regal in 1965, his most popular hit single The Thrill is Gone in 1969, and became the first bluesman to tour the Soviet Union in 1979. He continued to create lots of commercial success and collaborated with many famous artists like Elton John or Sheryl Crow.
There are many stories that reflect how passionate B.B was about blues and how warm and welcoming his personality was. A particularly interesting story was the one about his famed guitar, “Lucille”. The same year that he made his first recording B.B was attending a dance in Twist, Arkansas when a lit kerosene stove got tipped over by two men fighting nearby. The stove caused the entire venue to go up in flames and everyone quickly evacuated, but once King got outside he rushed back inside to retrieve his beloved acoustic guitar. After he retrieved his guitar and made it out safely he was told that the fight broke out over a woman named Lucille, to which he named his guitar after.
B.B came a long way from playing on street corners for dimes in Mississippi as a teenager. He was able to become a worldwide phenomenon and landed himself in the 1987 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. This was a huge accomplishment for B.B and he would continue to live a long and fruitful life before passing on May 14, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada.