BB King, the legendary guitarist Riley B. King, is mostly remembered as a “blues” singer, joyful musician, and a gentleman, whose economical and expressive style brought the blues to the mainstream. He died aged 89 on the night of May 14 in Las Vegas. His stage name originated from “Beale Street Blues Boy,” got some revisions and finally became “BB King.”
Patty, his daughter confirmed his death. Her father suffered from dehydration and was in home hospice care. King had diabetes type 2. He hailed from Mississippi and was the “king of blues” for six decades, inspiring other musicians in rock and blues like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Sheryl Crow and John Mayer. His loss is now mourned by musicians who knew and respected him.
BB is the subject of the documentary “B.B. King: The Life of Riley,” for the Delta Interpretive Center and B.B. King Museum that opened in 2008 in Mississippi. Despite numerous awards, being already a legend and an icon in American music, Riley refused to slow down, since he loved what he was doing. The “blues” singer was actually a joyful musician, who still relentlessly toured into his 80s. He received a long list of honors like a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, as well as a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction.
He affectionately named his Gibson guitar, Lucille, inspired by a woman for whom two men were fighting that they knocked over a kerosene heater that started a fire in Twist, Arkansas in the middle of 1950. BB performed at a dance when people ran because of the fire. He, too, ran out and forgot his guitar. He came back and risked his life to get it. Naming his guitar Lucille is to remind himself never to do anything that foolish again.
Born on September 16, 1925 on a plantation of cotton between Itta Bena, Mississippi and Indianola, BB sang in church choirs and was taught guitar basic chords by his preacher uncle. As a youth, he played on street corners which he said, gave him more income than a week’s work in the cotton field.
Riley managed to go with the trends by getting into them without putting aside his blues. True enough as BB King is remembered by the world as ‘Blues’ singer, joyful musician and a gentleman. He joined U2 on a “When Loves Comes to Town” scene; or with Guy, Beck, Jagger and others in the White House East Room.
U2, who is now currently in their iNNOCENCE + eXPERIENCE 2015 tour, honored the blues legend, telling the crowd, it was a special occasion for anyone who loves blues as it was the day they have to say goodbye to the great B.B. King. They then played “When Loves Come to Town” and Bono took care of all King’s lines.
One of BB’s fans, Michael Ingmire, referred to him as a “healer” and a “gentleman” in his posted tribute to Riley on Fox News. The North Carolina-based Ingmire is a writer, musician and activist. His father was murdered when he was eight and found solace in blues, particularly, in BB’s music. He described Riley’s blues as containing dignity and courage, which gave him a way to accept his existence regardless of “how dark the shadows were.” As a fan, Ingmire had numerous encounters with the guitarist, describing the icon as a kind and gracious gentleman who always put his fans before him.
American musician Joseph Henry Burnett, aka T Bone remembers the blues icon in a post in Time, telling a story of the legendary guitarist introducing the then young Texas musician Stevie Ray Vaughan in a club in Houston, Texas. T Bone not only remembers BB King as a “blues” singer, but as a joyful musician and a gentleman. Stevie Ray at that time was just starting, not known by many, and was nervous to be playing with a great guitarist who was the one who called him to the stage and introduced him to the crowd. Stevie Ray managed to play along BB, but broke his B string. However, the star guitarist lightened up the moment until they made up and played great to the audience again.
By Judith Aparri
CNN: Blues legend B.B. King dies at age 89
Fox News: Remembering B.B. King: A healer and a gentleman
Rolling Stone: U2 Honor B.B. King, Mock the Edge’s Fall At Second Show
Time: T Bone Burnett Remembers B.B. King: ‘He Conjured the Very Soul of Our Country’
Photo courtesy of aaronHwarren’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License