Riley B. King (born September 16, 1925-May 14, 2015), known by the stage name B.B. King, was an American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at No.3 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. According to Edward M. Komara, King “introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that would influence virtually every electric blues guitarist that followed.” King has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
King was born in a small cabin on a cotton plantation outside of Berclair, Mississippi, to Albert King and Nora Ella Farr on September 16, 1925.
In 1930, when King was four years old, his father abandoned the family, and his mother married another man. Because Nora Ella was too poor to raise her son, King was raised by his maternal grandmother Elnora Farr in Kilmichael, Mississippi. Over the years, B.B. has developed one of the world’s most identifiable guitar styles. He borrowed from Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walkerand others, integrating his precise and complex vocal-like string bends and his left hand vibrato, both of which have become indispensable components of rock guitarist’s vocabulary. His economy and phrasing has been a model for thousands of players, from Eric Clapton and George Harrison to Jeff Beck. B.B. has mixed traditional blues, jazz, swing, mainstream pop and jump into a unique sound. In B.B.’s words, “When I sing, I play in my mind; the minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.” King grew up singing in the gospel choir at Elkhorn Baptist Church in Kilmichael. At age 12, he purchased his first guitar for $15.00 although another reference indicates he was given his first guitar by his cousin, Bukka White. In 1943, King left Kilmichael to work as a tractor driver and play guitar with the Famous St. John’s Quartet of Inverness, Mississippi, performing at area churches and on WGRM in Greenwood, Mississippi.
In 1946, King followed his cousin Bukka White to Memphis, Tennessee. White took him in for the next ten months.However, King shortly returned to Mississippi, where he decided to prepare himself better for the next visit, and returned to West Memphis, Arkansas, two years later in 1948. He performed on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM in West Memphis, Arkansaswhere he began to develop a local audience for his sound. King’s appearances led to steady engagements at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis and later to a ten-minute spot on the legendary Memphis radio station WDIA. King’s Spot, became so popular, it was expanded and became the Sepia Swing Club.
Initially he worked at the local R&B radio station WDIA as a singer and disc jockey, where he gained the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, later shortened to Blues Boy and finally to B.B. It was there that he first met T-Bone Walker. “Once I’d heard him for the first time, I knew I’d have to have [an electric guitar] myself. ‘Had’ to have one, short of stealing!”, he said
In 1949, King began recording songs under contract with Los Angeles-based RPM Records. Many of King’s early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who later founded Sun Records. Before his RPM contract, King had debuted on Bullet Records by issuing the single “Miss Martha King” (1949), which did not chart well. “My very first recordings [in 1949] were for a company out of Nashville called Bullet, the Bullet Record Transcription company,” King recalls. “I had horns that very first session. I had Phineas Newborn on piano; his father played drums, and his brother, Calvin, played guitar with me. I had Tuff Green on bass, Ben Branch on tenor sax, his brother, Thomas Branch, on trumpet, and a lady trombone player. The Newborn family were the house band at the famous Plantation Inn in West Memphis.
King assembled his own band; the B.B. King Review, under the leadership of Millard Lee. The band initially consisted of Calvin Owens and Kenneth Sands (trumpet), Lawrence Burdin (alto saxophone), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Floyd Newman (baritone saxophone), Millard Lee (piano), George Joyner (bass) and Earl Forest and Ted Curry (drums). Onzie Horne was a trained musician elicited as an arranger to assist King with his compositions. By his own admission, he cannot play chords well and always relies on improvisation. This was followed by tours across the USA with performances in major theaters in cities such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and St. Louis, as well as numerous gigs in small clubs and juke joints of the southern US states.
In the winter of 1949, King played at a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas. In order to heat the hall, a barrel half-filled with kerosene was lit, a fairly common practice at the time. During a performance, two men began to fight, knocking over the burning barrel and sending burning fuel across the floor. The hall burst into flames, which triggered an evacuation. Once outside, King realized that he had left his guitar inside the burning building. He entered the blaze to retrieve his beloved guitar, a Gibson semi-hollow electric. Two people died in the fire. The next day, King learned that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. King named that first guitar Lucille, as well as every one he owned since that near-fatal experience, as a reminder never again to do something as stupid as run into a burning building or fight over women.
King meanwhile toured the entire “Chitlin’ circuit” and 1956 became a record-breaking year, with 342 concerts booked. The same year he founded his own record label, Blues Boys Kingdom, with headquarters at Beale Street in Memphis. There, among other projects, he produced artists such as Millard Lee and Levi Seabury.
In the 1950s, B.B. King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits including “3 O’Clock Blues”, “You Know I Love You,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Please Love Me,” “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “You Upset Me Baby,” “Every Day I Have the Blues”, “Sneakin’ Around,” “Ten Long Years,” “Bad Luck,” “Sweet Little Angel”, “On My Word of Honor,” and “Please Accept My Love.” In 1962, King signed to ABC-Paramount Records, which was later absorbed into MCA Records, and then his current label, Geffen Records. In November 1964, King recorded the Live at the Regal album at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois.
King won a Grammy Award for a tune called “The Thrill Is Gone”; his version became a hit on both the pop and R&B charts, which was rare during that time for an R&B artist. It also gained the number 183 spot in Rolling Stone magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. He gained further visibility among rock audiences as an opening act on The Rolling Stones’ 1969 American Tour. King’s mainstream success continued throughout the 1970s with songs like “To Know You is to Love You” and “I Like to Live the Love”.
King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. In 2004 he was awarded the international Polar Music Prize, given to artists “in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music.”
B.B King – Blues Boys Tune by thegonedu69
From the 1980s onward he has continued to maintain a highly visible and active career, appearing on numerous television shows and performing 300 nights a year. In 1988, King reached a new generation of fans with the single “When Love Comes to Town”, a collaborative effort between King and the Irish band U2 on their Rattle and Hum album. In 2000, King teamed up with guitarist Eric Clapton to record Riding With the King. In 1998, King appeared in The Blues Brothers 2000, playing the part of the lead singer of the Louisiana Gator Boys, along with Clapton, Dr. John, Koko Taylorand Bo Diddley.
2006–present: farewell tour and later activities
Aged 80 at the time, on March 29, 2006, King played at Hallam Arena in Sheffield, England. This was the first date of his United Kingdom and European farewell tour. He played this tour supported by Northern Irish guitarist Gary Moore, with whom King had previously toured and recorded, including the song “Since I Met You Baby”. The British leg of the tour ended on April 4 with a concert at Wembley Arena. And on June 28, 2009 King returned to Wembley arena to end a tour around Great Britain with British blues icon John Mayall. When questioned as to why he was embarking on another tour after already completing his farewell stint, King jokingly remarked that he had never actually said the farewell tour would be his last.
In July King went back to Europe, playing twice (July 2 and 3) in the 40th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival and also in Zürich at the Blues at Sunset on July 14. During his show in Montreux at the Stravinski Hall he jammed with Joe Sample, Randy Crawford, David Sanborn, Gladys Knight, Lella James, Earl Thomas, Stanley Clarke, John McLaughlin, Barbara Hendricks and George Duke. The European leg of the Farewell Tour ended in Luxembourg on September 19, 2006, at the D’Coque Arena (support act: Todd Sharpville).
In November and December, King played six times in Brazil. During a press conference on November 29 in São Paulo, a journalist asked King if that would be the actual farewell tour. He answered: “One of my favorite actors is a man from Scotland named Sean Connery. Most of you know him as James Bond, 007. He made a movie called Never Say Never Again.”
In June 2006, King was present at a memorial of his first radio broadcast at the Three Deuces Building in Greenwood, Mississippi, where an official marker of the Mississippi Blues Trail was erected. The same month, a groundbreaking was held for a new museum, dedicated to King. in Indianola, Mississippi. The museum opened on September 13, 2008.
In late October 2006, he recorded a concert CD and DVD entitled B.B. King: Live at his B.B. King Blues Clubs in Nashville and Memphis. The four night production featured his regular B.B. King Blues Band and captured his show as he performs it nightly around the world. It was his first live performance recording in 14 years.
On July 28, 2007, King played at Eric Clapton’s second Crossroads Guitar Festival with 20 other guitarists to raise money for the Crossroads Centre for addictive disorders. Performing in Chicago, he played “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss”, “Rock Me Baby” and “Thrill is Gone” (although the latter was not published on the DVD release) with Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan and Hubert Sumlin.
BB KING : Nightlife/Please Send Me someone to… by Jihem35
In a poignant moment during the live broadcast, he offered a toast to the concert’s host, Eric Clapton, and also reflected upon his own life and seniority. Adding to the poignancy, the four-minute speech — which had been underlaid with a mellow chord progression by Robert Cray throughout — made a transition to an emotional rendition of “Thrill is Gone”. Parts of this performance were subsequently aired in a PBS broadcast and released on the Crossroads II DVD.
Also in 2007, King accepted an invitation to contribute to Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard Records). With Ivan Neville’s Dumpsta Phunk, King contributed his version of the title song, “Goin’ Home”.
B.B.King Performing with his famous guitar, Lucille
In 2007 King performed “One Shoe Blues” on the Sandra Boynton children’s album Blue Moo, accompanied by a pair of sock puppets in the video.
In June 2008, King played at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee; he was also the final performer at the 25th annual Chicago Blues Festival on June 8, 2008, and at theMonterey Blues Festival, following Taj Mahal. Another June 2008 event was King’s induction into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame alongside Liza Minnelli and Sir James Galway.
In July 2008, Sirius XM Radio’s Bluesville channel was re-named B.B. King’s Bluesville.
On December 1, 2008, King performed at the Maryland Theater in Hagerstown, Maryland. On December 3, King and John Mayer were the closing act at the 51st Grammy Nomination Concert, playing “Let the Good Times Roll” by Louis Jordan. On December 30, 2008, King played at The Kennedy Center Honors Awards Show; his performance was in honor of actor Morgan Freeman.
In Summer 2009 B.B. King started a European Tour with concerts in France, Germany, Belgium, Finland and Denmark.
In March 2010, King contributed to Cyndi Lauper’s album Memphis Blues, which was released on June 22, 2010.
King performed at the Mawazine festival in Rabat, Morocco, on May 27, 2010.
On June 25, 2011 BB King played the pyramid stage at The Glastonbury Music Festival. On the June 28 he opened his new European tour at The Royal Albert Hall, London, supported by Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi, Ronnie Wood, Mick Hucknall and Slash.
Over a period of 62 years, B.B. King has played in excess of 15,000 performances.
B.B. King’s Blues Club
Blues Club on Beale Street, Memphis
In 1991, B.B. King’s Blues Club opened on Beale Street in Memphis, and in 1994, a second club was launched at Universal City Walk in Los Angeles. A third club in New York City’s Times Square opened in June 2000. Two further clubs opened at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut in January 2002 and another in Nashville in 2003. A club in West Palm Beach opened in the fall of 2009 and an additional one, based in the Mirage Hotel, Las Vegas, opened in the winter of 2009. In 2007, a B.B. King’s Blues Club in Orlando opened on International Drive. The Memphis, Nashville, Orlando, West Palm Beach and Las Vegas stores are all the same Company.
King is widely regarded as one of the most influential blues guitarists of all time, inspiring countless other electric blues and blues-rock guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy,Robert Cray, Peter Green, Derek Trucks, Duane Allman, Elmore James and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
In 2001, King signed on as an official supporter of Little Kids Rock, a non-profit organization that provides free musical instruments and instruction to children in underprivileged public schools throughout the US. He sits on LKR’s Honorary Board of Directors.
B.B. King has made guest appearances in numerous popular television shows, including The Cosby Show, The Young and the Restless, General Hospital, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Sesame Street, Married… with Children, Sanford and Son, and Touched by an Angel. He has also made a cameo in the movie Spies Like Us.
King has been married twice, to Martha Lee Denton, 1946 to 1952, and to Sue Carol Hall, 1958 to 1966. Both marriages ended because of the heavy demands made on the marriage by King’s 250 performances a year. It is reported that he has fathered 15 children and as of 2004 is the grandfather to fifty grandchildren. He has lived with Type II diabetes for over twenty years and is a high-profile spokesman in the fight against the disease, appearing in advertisements for diabetes-management products along with American Idol season 9 contestant Crystal Bowersox.
King is an FAA licensed Private Pilot and learned to fly in 1963 at Chicago Hammond Airport in Lansing, IL (now Lansing Municipal Airport – KIGQ). He frequently flew to gigs, but under the advice of his insurance company and manager in 1995, King was asked to fly only with another licensed pilot; and as a result, King stopped flying around age 70.
His favorite singer is Frank Sinatra. In his autobiography King speaks about how he was, and is, a “Sinatra nut” and how he went to bed every night listening to Sinatra’s classic album In the Wee Small Hours. King has credited Sinatra for opening doors to black entertainers who were not given the chance to play in “white-dominated” venues; Sinatra got B.B. King into the main clubs in Las Vegas during the 1960s.
B.B.King European Tour 2009, Vienna
US US R&B US Jazz US Blues
1956 Singin’ the Blues
1958 The Blues
1959 B. B. King Wails
1960 The Great B. B. King
My Kind of Blues
King of the Blues
1961 Blues For Me
1962 Blues in My Heart
Easy Listening Blues
1963 B. B. King
"Apollo Hall Of Fame "(Live 1993) Part 1 by Garglouik
Mr. Blues —
1966 Confessin’ the Blues
1968 Blues on Top of Blues
1969 Live & Well
Completely Well 38
1970 Indianola Mississippi Seeds
1971 B. B. King in London
1972 L.A. Midnight
1973 To Know You Is to Love You
BB King – I Believe To My Soul by thegonedu69
1977 King Size
1978 Midnight Believer
"Apollo Hall Of Fame" (Live 1993) Part 2 by Garglouik
1979 Take It Home
1981 There Must Be a Better World Somewhere
1982 Love Me Tender
1983 Blues ‘N’ Jazz
1985 Six Silver Strings
B.B.King – Exactly Like You by thegonedu69
1989 King of Blues
1991 There is Always One More Time
1993 Blues Summit
1995 Lucille & Friends
1997 Deuces Wild
1998 Blues on the Bayou
1999 Let the Good Times Roll
2000 Riding with the King
US: 2x Platinum
Makin’ Love Is Good for You
2001 A Christmas Celebration of Hope
2005 B. B. King & Friends:
2008 One Kind Favor
US US R&B US Blues US Jazz
1965 Live at the Regal
1967 Blues Is King
The Kings’ Jam (Live Bootleg) (w/Jimi Hendrix Live From the Generation Club, NY)
1970 The Incredible Soul Of B B King
1971 Live in Cook County Jail
1974 Together for the First Time…Live (With Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland)
1976 Bobby Bland and B. B. King Together Again…Live
1980 Now Appearing at Ole Miss
1982 Royal Jam
1983 Why I Sing the Blues
1990 B. B. King and Sons Live
1991 Live at San Quentin
Live at the Apollo
1999 Live in Japan
2007 Forever Gold: B. B. King Live
2008 Live at the BBC — — 1 —
2012 Live at the The Royal Albert Hall 2011
B.B. King at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, Ontario
Honors and awards
In 1977, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music by Yale University
In 1980, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
In 1987, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1990, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts.
In 1991, he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA.
King was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995. This is given to recognize “the lifelong accomplishments and extraordinary talents of our nation’s most prestigious artists.”
In 2004, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize for his “significant contributions to the blues”
On December 15, 2006, President George W. Bush awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
On May 27, 2007, King was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Brown University.
On May 14, 2008, King was presented with the keys to the city of Utica, New York; and on May 18, 2008, the mayor of Portland, Maine, Edward Suslovic, declared the day “B.B. King Day” in the city. Prior to King’s performance at the Merrill Auditorium, Suslovic presented King with the keys to the city.
In 2009, TIME named B.B. King No.3 on its list of the 10 best electric guitarists of all time.
Each year during the first week in June, a B.B. King Homecoming Festival is held in Indianola, Mississippi.
A Mississippi Blues Trail marker was added for B.B. King, commemorating his birthplace.
On May 29, 2010, Sabrosa Park (at the small town of Sabrosa, north of Portugal) was renamed B.B. King Park in honor of King and the free concert he played before 20,000 people.
A commemorative guitar pick honoring B.B. King Day in Portland, Maine.
Years reflect the year in which the Grammy was awarded, for music released in the previous year.
1971: Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “The Thrill Is Gone”.
1982: Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording for “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere”.
1984: Best Traditional Blues Recording for “Blues ‘n Jazz”.
1986: Best Traditional Blues Recording for “My Guitar Sings the Blues”.
1991: Best Traditional Blues Recording for “Live at San Quentin”.
1992: Best Traditional Blues Album for “Live at the Apollo”.
1994: Best Traditional Blues Album for “Blues Summit”.
1997: Best Rock Instrumental Performance for “SRV Shuffle”.
2000: Best Traditional Blues Album for “Blues on the Bayou”.
2001: Best Traditional Blues Album for “Riding with the King”.
2001: Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “Is You or Is You Ain’t (Baby)”.
2003: Best Traditional Blues Album for “A Christmas Celebration of Hope”.
2003: Best Pop Instrumental Performance for “Auld Lang Syne”.
2006: Best Traditional Blues Album for “80”.
2009: Best Traditional Blues Album for “One Kind Favor”.
King was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987
A Grammy Hall of Fame Award was given to “The Thrill is Gone” in 1998, an award given to recordings that are at least 25 years old and that have “qualitative or historical significance.”
Illness and death
After the cancellation of the remaining eight shows of his 2014 tour because of health problems, King announced on October 8, 2014, he was back at home to recuperate. On May 1, 2015, after two hospitalizations caused by complications from high blood pressure and diabetes, King announced on his website that he was in hospice care at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. He died in his sleep on May 14, 2015 from a series of small strokes caused by type 2 diabetes
The Thrill Is Gone RIP B.B.King
BB King – You’re gonna miss me