Program Success Barack Obama Special Edition - Page 9
GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN
.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