By Karen Stokes
Fans all over the world are sharing their condolences after news of the passing of one of the most famous blues artists, B.B. King. On May 14, at 89-years-old, Mr. King died in his sleep at his home hospice in Las Vegas from a series of small strokes caused by diabetes, the Associated Press reported. Mr. King lived with Type 2 diabetes for 20 years and was a spokesperson for awareness and the fight against the disease.
He was born Riley B. King, September 16, 1925, on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi. His parents were sharecroppers and raised Riley in church, where he sang in the choir. A self-taught guitarist, he soon learned he could make more money playing guitar than sharecropping. His recording career began in the 40’s. He was nicknamed the “Beale Street Blues Boy” when he was featured on Memphis radio station WDIA. The name was shortened to Blues Boy and then B.B.
Mr. King was married twice, both ending in divorce. With a long successful career, he was performing an average of 250 shows and television performances a year into his 70’s.
He learned to fly in 1963 and was an FAA certified private pilot. He would fly himself to his concert dates but for insurance reasons he had to discontinue this. He stopped flying at the age of 70.
Mr. King inspired musicians from diverse genres of music. From Blues and R&B to Country and Rock. Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Robert Cray, Gladys Knight, Bonnie Raitt, Jimi Hendrix and many more were influenced by the blues legend.
Milwaukee radio personality Earl Stokes, whose favorite B.B. King song is “Down Home Blues”, talked about how his grandparents loved listening to Mr. King. His music was a staple in their home. Ten years ago, Stokes had the opportunity to interview him.
“It was a very upbeat and fun interview, he had a lot of wisdom.”
Stokes’ favorite part of the interview was the story of his famous guitar “Lucille”.
In the winter of 1949 in Arkansas, King was playing at a club that was heated with barrels of kerosene. Two men started fighting, knocked the barrels over and ignited the club in flames. Everyone evacuated, and after a while, King realized he left his guitar in the club and ran through the fire to save his guitar. After rescuing his guitar people asked him why he ran back into the building and he told them, “That’s my money”.
King later found out the two men had been fighting over a woman named Lucille.
He named his guitar Lucille to remind him to never again do something as stupid as to run into a burning building or fight over a woman. King later wrote a song about that night named “Lucille”.
Milwaukee Shank Hall owner Peter Jest, who named “Riding with the King”, a collaboration with Eric Clapton, as his favorite B.B. King jam. Jest, who promoted concerts in Wisconsin for him said, “B.B. King is the last of the Blues legends, he always took time to sign autographs and take pictures with fans, he was a very nice guy. He loved what he did.”
According to ABC News, Mr. King is survived by 11 children, three of his children petitioned to take over his affairs, believing he was being taken advantage of by his manager, Laverne Toney. They suspected Toney of stealing money and neglecting medical care. Three of his children complained they were blocked from seeing him in home hospice care. The petition alleges Toney blocked Mr. King’s friends, Buddy Guy, Carlos Santana, Willie Nelson and Eric Clapton from visiting him. A Las Vegas judge rejected the petition in May citing no evidence was found of any alleged abuse.
A public viewing will be held in Las Vegas, Friday before his body is sent to Mississippi. Mr. King will be buried on the grounds of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, according to New York Daily News.