B.B. King, who died at age 89, reigned in blues kingdom

B.B. King, who died at age 89, reigned in blues kingdom
May 21
00:00 2015

In photo above: B.B. King

Associated Press

LAS VEGAS — B.B. King believed anyone could play the blues, and that “as long as people have problems, the blues can never die.”

But no one could play the blues like B.B. King, who died Thursday night, May 14, at age 89 in Las Vegas, where he had been in hospice care.

Although he kept performing well into his 80s, the 15-time Grammy winner suffered from diabetes and other problems. He collapsed during a concert in Chicago last October, later blaming dehydration and exhaustion.

For generations of blues musicians and rock `n rollers, King’s plaintive vocals and soaring guitar playing style set the standard for an art form born in the American South and honored and performed worldwide.

King played a Gibson guitar he affectionately called Lucille. The result could hypnotize an audience, no more so than when King used it to full effect on his signature song, “The Thrill is Gone.”

Riley B. King was born Sept. 16, 1925, on a tenant farm near Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta. His parents separated when he was 4, and his mother took him to the even smaller town of Kilmichael. She died when he was 9, and when his grandmother died as well, he lived alone in her primitive cabin, raising cotton to work off debts.

A preacher uncle taught him the guitar, and King didn’t play and sing blues in earnest until he was in basic training with the Army during World War II.

His first break came with gospel, singing lead and playing guitar with the Famous St. John’s Gospel Singers in Mississippi. But he soon split for Memphis, Tenn. where his career took off after Sonny Boy Williamson let him play a song on WKEM.

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