Background and Early Years
Riley “B.B.” King was born on September 16, 1925, and is an American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter, who is widely considered one of the best and most respected blues musicians of all time.
B. B. King arrived in Memphis in 1946 for the first time to work as a musician, but after few months of hardship he left, and returned to his hometown of Indianola, Miss. There he decided to better prepare himself for the next visit, and he returned to Memphis again 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 the Los Angeles-based record label, 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, where he gained the nickname "Beale Street Blues Boy," later it was shortened to "B. B." Before his RPM contract, King had debuted on Bullet Records by issuing a single, "Miss Martha King," in 1949, but it got a bad review and did not do well on the Billboard magazine charts.
Becoming A King
In the 1950s, King, a guitarist and vocalist, became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits under his belt including, "You Know I Love You," "Woke Up This Morning," "Please Love Me" and "When My Heart Beats like a Hammer." In 1962, King signed to ABC-Paramount Records, which later absorbed MCA Records, and then his current label, Geffen Records. In November of 1964, King recorded the legendary Live at the Regal album at the Regal Theater in Chicago.
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 No. 193 spot in Rolling Stone's Top 500 Songs Of All Time. He gained further rock visibility as an opening act on The Rolling Stones overly-hyped 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." Between 1951 and 1985 King appeared on Billboard's R&B charts 74 times.
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. In 2000, King teamed up with guitarist Eric Clapton to record “Riding With the King.” In 1998 King appeared in the movie The Blues Brothers 2000, playing the part of the lead singer of the Louisiana Gator Boys, along with Eric 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 30 minutes. In June of 2006, King was present at a memorial of his first radio broadcast at the Three Deuces Building in Greenwood, Miss., where an official marker of the Mississippi Blues Trail was erected.
King also made an appearance at the Crossroads Guitar Festival put on by Eric Clapton. On the DVD of the fest, he plays "Rock Me Baby" with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and Jimmie Vaughan. Over the years more than 100 of King’s concerts have been broadcast on radio and TV in a number of countries. In June of 2006, a groundbreaking was held for a new B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss. The museum is scheduled to open May 1, 2008.
On March 29 2006, aged 80 at the time, King played at the Sheffield, England's Hallam Arena. This was the first date of his UK and European farewell tour. He played this tour supported by ex-shredder and rocker –turned-bluesman, Gary Moore, with whom King had previously toured and recorded. The British leg of the tour ended on April 4, 2006, at the Wembley Arena.
In July of 2006, King went back to Europe. He bid a fond farewell to Switzerland, playing twice in the 40th edition of the world famous Montreux Jazz Festival and also in Zürich at the Blues at Sunset on July 14th. During his show in Montreux, at the Stravinski Hall, he jammed with greats such as, 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 September 19, 2006.
In November and December, King played six times in Brazil. During a press conference on November 29th 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 July 28, 2007, King Played at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival with 20 other guitarists to raise money for the Crossroads Center in Antigua, a rehabilitation center for addictive disorders.
In High Demand
Over 52 years, King has played at least 15,000 performances. According to a 2003 listing in Rolling Stone magazine, King is one of the greatest living guitarists, ranked third among the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time."
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 an acclaimed biography, B.B. King: There is Always One More Time, by the noted New York-based music writer David McGee.
King is also a licensed pilot, a known gambler, a vegetarian, non-drinker and non-smoker. King lives with Type II Diabetes for over 20 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 due to a low-grade fever after a recent bout of influenza. He was released on January 27 after an overnight stay. He resumed his tour on January 30 in Texas and gave another 30 performances in the States. By his own admission, he cannot play chords very well and always relies on improvisation, never thinking what to play beforehand.
His favorite singer is Frank Sinatra. In his biography, 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. For example, Sinatra got 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, Miss., his hometown. Famed Delta Blues artist Bukka White is actually King's first cousin, and professional boxer, Sonny Liston, was King's uncle. It is reported that King has fathered 15 children.
King is a proponent of music education for children. In 2002, he signed on as an official supporter of Little Kids Rock, a nonprofit organization that provides free musical instruments and lessons to children in public schools throughout the U.S. He sits on the organization's board of directors as an honorary member.
The Story Behind Lucille
One of his trademarks is "Lucille," the name he has given to his guitars since the 1950s after he escaped a fire at a juke joint he was playing in. The fire was started by two men who were fighting over a woman named "Lucille." During their fight, they knocked over the bucket of burning kerosene used for heat. When King escaped the building, he realized that he had left his guitar in the burning building. He ran back inside to get it and after learning of what happened, he named his guitar "Lucille" to remind himself not to do it again.
Awards and Honors:
On May 27, 2007, King was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Brown University.
He was officially inducted 1987 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, becoming one of the first artists to be honored by the museum.
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."
Sources: wikipedia.org; http://courses.dce.harvard.edu/~musie139/DeltaDiary.html; ^ http://www.rollingstone.com/news/story/5937559/the_100_greatest_guitarists_of_all_time; Sesame Street Beat Newsletter Archive; http://www.guitarworld.com/allaccess/interviews/bb-king.html; Associated Press. "B.B. King released from Texas hospital," Houston Chronicle, January 27, 2007; Blue All Around Me, 1999, BB King and Daniel Ritz; Tosches, Nick, The Devil and Sonny Liston, 2000; http://www.jazzandbluesmasters.com/bbking.htm; http://www.guitarworld.com/allaccess/interviews/bb-king.html; U2 Rattle and Hum DVD, 1988; http://www.indianolams.org/blues.html; http://www.brown.edu/Administration/News_Bureau/2006-07/06-142.html; http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/reference/two_column_table/Presidential_Medal_of_Freedom_Recipients.htm; http://www.polarmusicprize.se/2/; http://www.nea.gov/honors/medals/medalists_year.html; http://www.rockhall.com/inductee/bb-king; http://www.grammy.com/Recording_Academy/Awards/Lifetime_Awards/; http://www.grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Winners/; http://www.kennedy-center.org/calendar/index.cfm?fuseaction=showIndividual&entitY_id=3696&source_type=A; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._B._King_discography.
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