The king of blues B.B. King has died at the age of 89. According to his attorney, Brent Bryson, King died peacefully in his sleep at his home in Las Vegas at 9:40 p.m. PDT. Funeral arrangements are currently being made.
Although the Blue’s legend had continued to perform well into his 80’s, he had also continued to suffer from diabetes and his health had been on the decline this past year. The 15-time Grammy winner even collapsed during a concert in Chicago last October, later blaming dehydration and exhaustion. He had been in hospice care at his Las Vegas home.
For a career that spanned nearly 70 years, Riley B. King was not only the undisputed king of the blues but a mentor to scores of guitarists that included big names like Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and Keith Richards. He recorded more than 50 albums and toured the world well into his 80s, often performing 250 or more concerts a year. He kept up an incredible pace even late in life until he could simply no longer go on.
B.B. King will forever be remember for the beautifully crafted single-string runs punctuated by loud chords, subtle vibratos and bent notes. All of which he played on his famous gIbson guitar that he affectionately called Lucille. The result of his music, especially live, could bring chills to any audience. Of the many things that stand out about King and his legendary performance include the fact that he didn’t like to sing and play at the same time. Unusual? Yes, but it never hurt his performances. He developed a call-and-response between him and Lucille.
“Sometimes I just think that there are more things to be said, to make the audience understand what I’m trying to do more,” King told The Associated Press in 2006. “When I’m singing, I don’t want you to just hear the melody. I want you to relive the story, because most of the songs have pretty good storytelling.”
It was a preacher uncle that taught King how to play and he perfected his technique will living in poverty in the Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the blues.
“I’ve always tried to defend the idea that the blues doesn’t have to be sung by a person who comes from Mississippi, as I did,” he said in the 1988 book “Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music.”
“People all over the world have problems,” he said. “And as long as people have problems, the blues can never die.”
King got his start in radio with a gospel quartet in Mississippi, but soon moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where a job as a disc jockey at WDIA gave him access to a wide range of recordings. He studied the great blues and jazz guitarists, including Django Reinhardt and T-Bone Walker, and played live music a few minutes each day as the “Beale Street Blues Boy,” later shortened to B.B.
Through his broadcasts and live performances, he quickly built up a following in the black community, and recorded his first R&B hit, “Three O’Clock Blues,” in 1951.
He began to break through to white audiences, particularly young rock fans, in the 1960s with albums like “Live at the Regal,” which would later be declared a historic sound recording worthy of preservation by the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.
He further expanded his audience with a 1968 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival and when he opened shows for the Rolling Stones in 1969.
King was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and received the Songwriters Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, gave a guitar to Pope John Paul II and had President Barack Obama sing along to his “Sweet Home Chicago.”
His 15 Grammys included best male rhythm `n’ blues performance in 1971 for “The Thrill Is Gone,” best ethnic or traditional recording in 1982 for “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere” and best traditional blues recording or album several times. His final Grammy came in 2009 for best blues album for “One Kind Favor.”
After he broke through as a musician, it appeared King might never stop performing. When he wasn’t recording, he toured the world relentlessly, playing 342 one-nighters in 1956. In 1989, he spent 300 days on the road. After he turned 80, he vowed he would cut back, and he did, somewhat, to about 100 shows a year. He was an amazing performer and always gave the audience a show they would never forget.
King had 15 biological and adopted children. Family members say 11 of them survive. Rest in peace B.B. King, you will be missed.
B.B. King Performing “The Thrill Is Gone.” This is the original version.