Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Prince, B.B King, these are all some of the most famous names in the music industry. As we celebrate what would have been the King of blues 95th birthday, we remember all the wonderful music that he created and all that he did as an icon and activist.
He began life on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi on September 16, 1925. He lived a long and fruitful life for the nearly 90 years that he lived. He began his passion for music very early on and would spend his youth playing on street corners in as many as four towns a night to earn dimes. After his service in the U.S Army, he made the decision to hitchhike to Memphis, Tennessee to pursue his music career. At the time, Memphis was the epicenter for any important musicians or up and coming ones. It was a risky move to relocate out south, but he did it to pave a future for the next generation of Musicians. After reaching his new city he began his career as a disc jockey where he gained the nickname, “the Beale Street Blues Boy” which was later shortened to “B.B”. At the time he was living with his cousin, Bukka White, which was a very accomplished blues performer at the time and mentored B.B on the blues business.
His first major break in his career was in 1948 after he did a performance on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program on KWEM, in West Memphis. After his first performance, he gained exposure which led to a steady connection at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis which led to a ten-minute spot on the black-owned radio station, WDIA. His segment gained lots of success and his nickname soon became very popular.
King did his first recording in 1949 which then started his 12-year relationship with Kent/RPM/Modern. Coincidentally this was the same year that he famously named his guitar, “Lucille”. He decided on this name after he was attending a dance in Twist, Arkansas and a lit kerosene stove was tipped over by a group of men fighting nearby which led to the venue catching fire. After the fire erupted everyone ran outside but once B.B realized that he had forgotten his acoustic guitar inside he ran back inside to save it, then after he heard that the fight was over a woman named Lucille he decided to name his guitar after her. Through his new partnership, he was able to record a line of Rhythm and blues hits like “You Know I Love You”, “Woke Up This Morning” and “Three O’clock Blues”. “Three o’clock Blues” climbed to the No.1 spot on the R&B charts and later became his first national hit in 1951. He began touring night clubs shortly after the release of his national hit and began averaging over 300 annual performances throughout the next century. King signed with ABC Records in 1962 and released Live at the Regal in 1965, his most popular hit single “The Thrill is Gone” in 1969 and became the first bluesman to tour the Soviet Union in 1979. B.B partnered with many popular artists like Elton John or Sheryl Crow and created a lot of commercial success.
B.B went from a sidewalk performer earning dimes to a worldwide phenomenon and even earned a spot on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. This was one of King’s biggest accomplishments in his nearly 90-year life. He passed on May 14, 2015, in Las Vegas, Nevada after a long and accomplished life. As we celebrate his life we acknowledge names that meant a lot to King, Willie King, Riley King jr. , Barbara Winfrey Karen Williams, Rita Washington, Shirley Peterson, Michelle Seroy, Robert Edwards, Claudette Robinson.Ruby Davis Patty King, Eric Mitchell, Leonard King. Krystal Young and Quincy King held a special place in his life. Although he is gone his name and all that he did will live on, he will forever be the KING.