The Savannah Tribune Salutes the Life Riley “B.B.” King

Riley B. King
Riley B. King

Riley B. King was born on September 16, 1925, between Itta Bena and Indianola, Mississippi. His parents split up when he was a small child, and he lived for a few years with his mother in the Mississippi hills. She died when he was nine, and he was alone until his father, Albert King, found him a few years later. Working on a cottonplantation in Indianola, he earned $22.50 a week. “I guess the earliest sound of blues that I can remember was in the fields while people would be pickin’ cotton or choppin’ or somethin’.” King noted in a 1988 Living Blues interview cited in Contemporary Musicians. “When I sing and play now I can hear those same sounds that I used to hear then as a kid.”

Riley “B.B.” King has been called the “King of the Blues” and “Ambassador of the Blues,” and indeed he’s reigned across the decades as the genre’s most recognizable and influential artist. His half-century of success owes much to his hard work as a touring musician who consistently logged between 200 and 300 shows a year. Through it all he’s remained faithful to the blues while keeping abreast of contemporary trends and deftly incorporating other favored forms – jazz and pop, for instance – into his musical overview. Much like such colleagues and contemporaries as Buddy Guy and John Lee Hooker, B.B. King managed to change with the changing times while adhering to his blues roots.

As a guitarist, King is best-known for his single-note solos, played on a hollowbody Gibson guitar. King’s unique tone is velvety and regal, with a discernible sting.

He’s known for his trilling vibrato, wicked string bends, and a judicious approach that makes every note count. Back in the early days, King nicknamed his guitar “Lucille,” as if it were a woman with whom he was having a dialogue. In fact, King regards his guitar as an extension of his voice (and vice versa). “The minute I stop singing orally,” King has noted, “I start to sing by playing Lucille.” There have been many Lucilles over the years, and Gibson has even marketed a namesake model with King’s approval. King selected the name in the mid-Fifties after rescuing his guitar from a nightclub fire started by two men arguing over a woman. Her name? Lucille.

“B.B. King’s achievement has been to take the primordial music he heard as a kid, mix and match it with a bewildering variety of other musics, and bring it all into the digital age,” Colin Escott wrote in his essay for the King of the Blues box set. “There will probably never be another musical journey comparable to [King’s].”

The final word belongs to King himself, testifying on the healing quality of the genre he embodies. “I’m trying to get people to see that we are our brother’s keeper,” King has said. “Red, white, black, brown or yellow, rich or poor, we all have the blues.”

Blues icon B.B. King will be celebrated Saturday. According to the musician’s youngest daughter, Claudette, King’s funeral will take place May 23 in Las Vegas. King shared the information on her Facebook page:

Dion Brown, executive director of the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Miss., confirmed to The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger that there will be a public viewing of King from 3-7 p.m. Friday at Palm South Jones Mortuary in Las Vegas. A private memorial service for family and close friends is planned for 9:30-10:50 a.m., Brown says, with a memorial service officiated by Pam Mason set for 11 a.m.

King’s attorney, Arthur Williams Jr., told the Associated Press Friday that the musician wanted his funeral to be held in Indianola, in a church near the site where he picked cotton as a boy. Brown says King’s funeral service and burial will be in Indianola a week after the memorial service, but details are still pending.

.. B.B. King passed away on May 14, 2015. He was 89.The artist spent nearly 70 years thrilling audiences and spreading the music he learned as a poverty-stricken youth in the Mississippi Delta all over the world.

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