Tributes from around the world have been flowing in since news broke of blues legend B.B. King’s death. He died at the age of 89 after years of battling type 2 diabetes, which led to a number of small strokes.
The legendary blues singer and guitarist reportedly died peacefully while sleeping at his Las Vegas home. His health had been on the decline for the past 12 months. His lawyer, Brent Bryson, said arrangements for his funeral were being made.
After being admitted to hospital in April for diabetes-related illness and high blood pressure, King had been treated at home and was in a frail condition. His final official statement appeared on his website at the start of May, which thanked people for their prayers and well wishes.
Following the news of the 89-year-old’s death, President of the Unites States Barack Obama had written a touching tribute for King on the Facebook page of the White House, saying that the United States has “lost a legend” and the blues industry has “lost its king”. Obama also pointed out the blues singer’s ability to inspire up-and-coming artists. The blues legend had even performed for the president in February 2012 at the White House. When Bill Clinton was president of the United States, the singer had received the Kennedy Center Honor in 1995.
King, a 15-time Grammy winner, had toured the world for the better part of 70 years, a remarkable effort considering he was still performing at concerts well into his 80s despite suffering from diabetes. In just one year, the artist had played at 342 concerts, and most often he would perform at more than 250 gigs on an annual basis. He had collapsed at a Chicago gig in October 2014, which he attributed the cause to exhaustion and dehydration.
With more than 50 albums to his name, and nicknamed ‘King of the Blues’, King was well-known for much more than his heartfelt vocals and his beautiful guitar playing. He had mentored numerous guitarists, including the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and John Mayall. He had also been inducted into both the rock ‘n’ roll and blues hall of fames.
He had an unusual style, but he could with amazing craft, bring chills to his concert goers through his single-string runs interspersed by loud chords, bent notes and subtle vibratos. He learnt how to play guitar from his uncle.
His first regional hits came in 1950 when he was in his mid-20s and just one year later he redefined blues guitar playing with his national hit, Three O’Clock Blues. His successes flourished from here.
With a career spanning an inspirational seven decades, the blues legend had worked with a number of artists including U2, an Irish band that mirrored the image of star-struck fans more than accomplished artists in their own right when they performed with him. King and U2 played together in 1985-86. As fate would have it, their song When Love Comes To Town was his final major hit.
He was born in 1925 in Mississippi and a guitar was no stranger to him during his childhood. As a teenager, his life as a popular performer had begun, with a young King performing on his hometown streets in Indianola, before stretching out to cover Memphis gigs.
It was in Memphis where his nickname B.B. was borne. He was performing as a DJ where he was recognized as the Beale Street Blues Boy. Eventually, the Blues Boy was shortened to B.B. and from there the name had stuck. His death at the age of 89 has touched the lives of many and he will be fondly remembered as the King of the Blues.
Opinion by Rebecca Brown
Rolling Stone: President Obama on B.B. King, America Has Lost a Legend
Sydney Morning Herald: B.B. King Dead 89 in Las Vegas
Photo Courtesy of Fernando Garcia’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License