Program Success Barack Obama Special Edition - Page 9

BLUES LEGEND B.B. KING GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN B .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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. In 1943, King dropped out of school and moved t