There will never be another like him…blues legend Riley “B.B.” King, one of the greatest American musicians and performers in any genre, passed away on Thursday, May 14th, 2015 after a brief illness. King was 89 years old.
Born in 1925 on a plantation near Itta Bena, King considered nearby Indianola his hometown, and that’s where The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, a museum dedicated to the bluesman, is located. The son of sharecroppers, as a youth B.B. picked cotton and sang in the church. Depending on who’s telling the story, King either bought or was gifted his first guitar by his cousin Bukka White, a blues legend in his own right.
Beale Street Blues Boy
King recorded his first sides for Nashville’s Bullet Records in 1949 before signing with the Bahari Brothers’ RPM Records label in Los Angeles. King’s career began to flourish while with RPM, the guitarist scoring his first R&B chart hit in 1952 with “Three O’Clock Blues.” From there, King was off to the races, reeling off a string of hits throughout the 1950s including songs like “Woke Up This Morning,” “Sweet Little Angel,” “You Know I Love You,” “Every Day I Have The Blues,” and many others. King toured constantly, racking up in excess of 300 dates a year, a grueling schedule that he’d pursue for decades.
A Legacy of Quality
When the popularity of blues music began to wane with African-American audiences in the 1960s, King found newfound fame with young white rock fans, and he was the opening act for the Rolling Stones’ 1969 tour. He signed with ABC-Paramount Records in 1962, which would later be bought out by MCA Records, which later became Geffen Records…King essentially recorded with the same company for better than 60 years. Although King had released a number of albums while with RPM/Modern Records during the early 1960s, some of which were compilations of singles, the guitarist hit his stride for ABC-Paramount later in the decade, establishing a legacy of quality that would characterize King’s career until the end.
Late Career Triumphs
As the decade of the 1970s rolled to a close, King’s prolific recording output began to slow down. He released but five albums during the 1980s (compared with nine the previous decade), and six albums during the ‘90s, but recordings like Deuces Wild and Blues on The Bayou kept his popularity high, and he continued to tour better than nine months each year. King performed and recorded with a number of other artists though the years – U2, Dr. John, Eric Clapton, Cyndi Lauper, and many others, and he also made guest appearances on a number of TV shows, including The Cosby Show, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Sesame Street, Married…With Children, and Touched By An Angel. He also appeared in films like Blues Brothers 2000 and Spies Like Us.
B.B. King’s Accolades
The list of accolades and honors provided King is too lengthy to recount here. The guitarist was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2014. King won his first Grammy™ Award in 1970 for his classic song “The Thrill Is Gone,” and would go on to earn 15 more Grammys. He won so many W.C. Handy/Blues Music Awards through the years (15 in all from 39 nominations) that The Blues Foundation’s “Blues Entertainer of the Year” award was renamed the “B.B. King Entertainer of the Year” award. In 2012, King had the opportunity to perform at the White House for President Obama.