Program Success Barack Obama Special Edition | Page 9


B . B . KING


Blues Legend B . B . King Jacksonville , Florida May 2015


. B . King , the legendary singerguitarist-composer who became one of the greatest success stories among African-American blues artists , died Thursday in Las Vegas . He was 89 . His attorney , Brent Bryson , informed us that King died peacefully in his sleep at his home . It had recently been reported that King , who suffered from diabetes , was living in hospice care at home .
For almost 70 years , King and his beloved electric guitar , Lucille , introduced generations of fans to the potent power of blues that rose out of the Mississippi Delta . He was born Riley B . King on Sept . 16 , 1925 , into a family of poor sharecroppers on a plantation near Itta Bena , Miss . His parents separated when he was 5 , and he went to live in the hills of Kilmichael , Miss ., where he bounced back and forth between his mother ’ s and grandmother ’ s homes . After King ’ s mother died , when he was just 9 , he stayed in his grandmother ’ s care .
King grew up singing in the church choir , and he found solace in music . He learned the basics of E , A and B chords on the guitar from the local pastor , who happened to be a very good musician . The young Riley wanted to become a guitar-playing preacher and gospel singer . He even formed a singing group , the Elkhorn Jubilee Singers , with his cousin and two friends .
King soon discovered what would become his true musical love , however , at his aunt ’ s house , where he heard the music of Blind Lemon Jefferson and Lonnie Johnson on her old Victrola . At age 12 , he purchased his first guitar for $ 15 and worked on his playing skills with the help of mail-order instruction books .
In 1943 , King dropped out of school and moved to the Mississippi Delta , where he drove a tractor on a large plantation . During his off-hours , King sang on street corners for loose change . He also joined small gospel groups . In 1947 , he hitchhiked to Memphis , Tenn .— a destination for black musicians of all genres - with $ 2.50 in his pocket to pursue a career in music . King stayed with his cousin Bukka White , one of the most celebrated blues artists of his time , who became King ’ s mentor . King got his first big break in 1948 , performing on Sonny Boy Williamson ’ s radio program in West Memphis , Ark ., just west of Memphis . He later got a spot on a black-owned radio station , where he became known as the Beale Street Blues Boy , later shortened to “ Blues Boy ” King . Eventually it became just B . B .
He recorded his first album in 1949 , releasing six singles by year ’ s end . He signed a long-term recording contract and started performing on the Chitlin Circuit — small cafés , juke joints and country dance halls throughout the region . While he was playing at a dance in Twist , Ark ., two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene lantern , setting the wooden building on fire . King fled with the crowd , but soon realized he ’ d left behind his cherished $ 30 acoustic guitar . He rushed back into the burning building to rescue it , barely escaping . He later learned that the fight had been over a woman named Lucille , so he gave that name to his beloved guitar to remind himself never to squabble over a woman . From that day forward , each of his trademark Gibson guitars was called Lucille .
By the 1950s , King was beginning to receive recognition from black audiences nationwide , thanks to his No . 1 hit “ Three O ’ Clock Blues .” He embarked on his first national tour and had more hits . In 1955 , he left the radio job and purchased a tour bus known as Big Red . King and his band played 342 one-night stands in 1956 alone .
King was the premier artist on the blues circuit , fusing gospel , jazz , pop and traditional blues . His electric-guitar playing was powerful and his voice rich , and the stories he shared on-stage were filled with humor and emotion . Yet his success led to his divorce after eight years of marriage from his first wife , Martha Denton , who didn ’ t like King ’ s extensive touring schedule . The breakup inspired King to pen the song “ Woke Up This Morning .” He would marry Sue Hall in 1958 , but that marriage also ended after eight years as a result of the constant travel . King would never marry again . The second divorce led him to record a Roy Hawkins tune , “ The Thrill Is Gone ,” which became his biggest hit , and his signature song .
It wasn ’ t until the mid-1960s that King achieved crossover success with white audiences that contemporaries like Fats Domino , Chuck Berry and Little Richard were enjoying in other genres . A young generation of guitarists — including the Beatles ’ George Harrison , Eric Clapton , Jimi Hendrix and Jeff Beck — cited King as a major influence on their own playing styles . King found himself performing at huge rock and other venues , including the Newport Folk Festival in 1968 . He opened for the Rolling Stones at a number of U . S . dates in 1969 and appeared on The Tonight Show and The Ed Sullivan Show .
By the 1970s , King was an international institution . He also began to accumulate awards , including 18 Grammys . He was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 . He received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1987 , the National Medal of Arts in 1990 and Kennedy Center Honors in 1995 . King was also given a host of honorary doctorates and awards from institutions including the University of Mississippi , Yale University and Berklee College of Music .
King achieved success with a string of eponymous clubs . He opened his first venue in Memphis in 1990 and went on to launch clubs in cities including Orlando and West Palm Beach in Florida , Nashville , Tenn ., New York and Las Vegas . He penned his autobiography , Blues All Around Me , in 1996 .