Riley B. King, better known by his stage name “B.B. King” is a famous African American blues musician. He was born on September 16, 1925 on a cotton plantation in Mississippi, to Albert King and Nora Ella Farr. His father left the family when King was very young, and his mother remarried shortly after, so he was raised by his maternal grandmother. He joined the church choir at a young age, and bought his first guitar at the age of 12. He was influenced musically by the famous blues musician Bukka White, who was his mother’s cousin. In 1946, he followed White to Tennessee, and began playing small time gigs where he eventually made a name for himself in musical circles. He earned a spot on the Memphis radio station WDIA, which became so popular that it became a full-fledged show called “The Sepia Swing Club”.
King began recording in 1949, with a Los Angeles based label called RPM Records. He assembled his own band and began touring major cities such as Washington, D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, St. Louis and the southern U.S. states. During one of his performances, a fight broke out which caused a kerosene filled barrel to catch fire and be knocked down. Soon, the entire theatre caught fire and the building was evacuated. During this time, King realized that he had left his guitar inside the burning building, and went back to retrieve it, narrowly escaping death. The fight was about a woman named Lucille, and King named his guitar Lucille to remind him of the experience and vowed never to do anything so dangerous again.
In 1952, King had a number one hit on the chart called “3 O’ Clock Blues” which made him a prominent musician. This was followed by many others, including “You Know I Love You” “Woke Up This Morning”, “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer”, “Whole Lotta Love” “You Upset Me Baby”, “Every Day I Have the Blues”, “Ten Long Years”, “Sweet Little Angel”, “On My Word of Honor” and “Please Accept My Love.” In 1956 alone, he had 342 concerts, and formed his own record label called “Blues Boys Kingdom”. In 1970, he won a Grammy Award for the song “The Thrill Is Gone” which gained a spot on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time”. His career reached ever greater heights, including concerts and appearances on several television shows. He collaborated with several artists including Eric Clapton, Carole King and U2.
In 2006, B.B. King had a farewell world tour, with performances in several countries including UK, Zurich, Luxemburg and Brazil. The same year, a museum dedicated to him was established in Indianola, Mississippi. In 2007, he performed at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival, followed by the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee, the Chicago Blues Festival, and at the Monterey Blues Festival in 2008. He also performed at the Grammy Nomination Concert that year, as well as The Kennedy Center Honors Awards Show in honor of the Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman. The same year, he was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame. In 2012, he performed at the White House for President Obama. King is currently 89 years old and continues to perform actively. To date, he has more than 15,000 performances to his name.
B.B. King has been married twice, is known to have fathered 15 children and 50 grandchildren. He has won numerous awards and honors, including induction into the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, National Medal of Arts, Presidential Medal of Freedom and being named on the list of the 10 best electric guitarists of all time by TIME magazine.