B. B. King
(born Riley B. King
, September 16, 1925) is an American blues guitarist
. Critical acclaim and widespread popularity have cemented his reputation as one of the most respected and successful blues musicians. Rolling Stone
magazine named him the third-greatest guitarist of "the 100 greatest guitarists of all time
B. B. King arrived in Memphis for the first time in 1946 to work as a musician, but after a few months of hardship he left, going back to Mississippi. There he decided to prepare himself better for the next visit and returned to Memphis two years later. Initially he worked at the local R&B
radio channel WDIA as a singer. In 1949, he 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
. King was also a disc jockey
in Memphis, Tennessee
, where he gained the nickname "Beale Street Blues Boy", later shortened to "B. B." Before his RPM contract, King had debuted on Bullet Records by issuing the single "Miss Martha King" (1949), which got a bad review in Billboard
magazine and did not chart well.
In the 1950s, B. B. King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits including "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, B. B. 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's first success outside the blues market was his 1969 remake of Roy Hawkins' tune "The Thrill Is Gone." King's version became a hit on both pop and R&B charts, which was rare 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 rock visibility 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."
The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s saw King recording less and less. Yet throughout this time he maintained 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 B. B. 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 Taylor and Bo Diddley.
In 2003, King shared the stage with the rock band Phish in New Jersey, performing three of his classics and jamming with the band for over 45 minutes.
In June 2006, King was present at a memorialization of his first radio broadcast at the Three Deuces Building in Greenwood, Mississippi, where an official marker of the Mississippi Blues Trail was erected.
B. B. King also made an appearance at the Crossroads Guitar Festival put on by Eric Clapton. On the DVD, he plays "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss" and "Rock Me Baby" with Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan and Hubert Sumlin.
In June 2006, a groundbreaking was held for a new
B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi. The museum opened on September 13, 2008.
B. B. King was also the final performer at the 25th annual Chicago Blues Festival on June 8, 2008.
In June 2008, B. B. King was inducted 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.
Aged 80 at the time, on 29 March 2006, King played at Sheffield
's Hallam Arena. This was the first date of his UK and European farewell tour. He played this tour supported by ex-shredder/rocker turned bluesman 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 4 April with a final UK concert at Wembley Arena
In July King went back to Europe, playing twice (2 & 3 July) in the 40th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival and also in Zürich at the Blues at Sunset on 14 July. 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 19 September 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."
On 28 July 2007, King played at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival with 20 other guitarists to raise money for the Crossroads Centre for addictive disorders, located in Antigua.
In June 2008, King played at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and on 1 August 2008, he performed at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, Massachusetts.
In June 2008, King played the final set of the Monterey, California Blues Festival following Taj Mahal.
Over 52 years B. B. King played at least 15,000 performances.
He 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 and Sanford and Son.
King is the subject of a biography, B. B. King: There is Always One More Time, by the noted New York-based music writer David McGee.
In the Beatles' song "Dig It" from the Let It Be sessions, John Lennon states "Like the FBI...and the CIA...and the BBC...BB King...and Doris Day...Matt Busby...Dig it..."
King played with many musicians over the years. One was the organist Les Whitt, the director of the municipal zoo in Alexandria, Louisiana, from 1974 until his death in 2008.
The son of Alfred King and Nora Ella King, B. B. King has had two wives to date: Martha Lee Denton, 1946 to 1952, and 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 by different women.
King is a licensed pilot, a known gambler, a vegetarian, non-drinker, and non-smoker. He has lived with Type II Diabetes for over twenty years and is a visible spokesman in the fight against the disease, appearing in advertisements for diabetes-management products.
On January 26, 2007, while on tour, King was hospitalized in Galveston, Texas, because of a low-grade (100.4°F / 38°C) fever after a recent bout of influenza. He was released on January 27, after an overnight stay. He resumed his touring on January 30 in Texas and gave another thirty performances in the U.S.
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 weren't given the chance to play in "white dominated" venues. Sinatra got B. B. King into the main showrooms in Vegas during the 1960s.
Each year, during the first week in June, a B. B. King homecoming festival is held in Indianola, Mississippi.
Famed Delta Blues artist Bukka White was King's first cousin.
Boxer Sonny Liston was King's uncle.
By his own admission, he cannot play chords very well and always relies on improvisation.
In the mid-1950s, while B. B. was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas, a few fans became unruly. Two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove, setting fire to the hall. B. B. raced outdoors to safety with everyone else, then realized that he left his beloved $30 acoustic guitar inside, so he rushed back inside the burning building to retrieve it, narrowly escaping death. When he later found out that the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, he decided to give the name to his guitar to remind him never to do a crazy thing like fight over a woman. Ever since, each one of B. B.'s trademark Gibson guitars has been called Lucille.
- The Electric B. B. King - His Best (1960)
- Great Moments with B. B. King (1981)
- The King of the Blues: 1989 (1988)
- Got My Mojo Working (1989)
- King of the Blues (Box Set, 1992)
- Why I Sing the Blues (1992)
- Blues Brothers 2000; (1998)
- Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: B. B. King; (2003)
- Ultimate Collection (2005)
- B. B. King: Live (2008)
Honors and awards
- Grammy Awards - King was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. As of 2006, he has won 14 Grammy Awards, of which nine have been the Grammy award for Best Traditional Blues Album: in 2006 (for B.B. King & Friends: 80), 2003 (for A Christmas Celebration of Hope), 2001 (for Riding with the King), 2000 (for Blues on the Bayou), 1994 (for Blues Summit), 1992 (for Live at the Apollo), 1991 (for Live at San Quentin), 1986 (for My Guitar Sings the Blues) and 1984 (for Blues 'N' Jazz). In 1982, he won the Grammy for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording (for There Must Be a Better World Somewhere). The Grammy for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk was last given in 1986; the Grammy for Best Traditional Blues Album was first given in 1983. In 1997, he won a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance (with other artists, for "SRV Shuffle"). In 1971, he won the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance (for "The Thrill is Gone"). 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.
- 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 1991, B. B. King was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA.
- On May 14, 2008, King was presented with the keys to the City of Utica, New York.
- 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.