B B King the last of the Southern-born blues musicians who defined modern electric blues in the 1950s and would influence scores of rock and blues guitarists, died peacefully in his sleep at the age of 89.
In October, B B King fell ill during a show and after being diagnosed with dehydration and exhaustion, canceled his concert tour and had not returned to touring at the time of his death.
With his trusty Gibson guitar Lucille, B B King developed his audiences in stages, connecting with African-Americans region by region in the 1950s and ’60s, breaking through to the American mainstream in the ’70s and becoming a global ambassador for the blues soon thereafter, becoming the first blues musician to play the Soviet Union.
Rolling Stone magazine ranked him at No. 6 on its 2011 list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time (previously ranked No. 3 in the 2003 edition of the same list), and he was ranked No. 17 in Gibson’s “Top 50 Guitarists of All Time”. According to Edward M. Komara, King “introduced a sophisticated style of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato that would influence virtually every electric blues guitarist that followed.”
B B King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. King was also inducted into 2014 class of the R&B Music Hall of Fame. He is considered one of the most influential blues musicians of all time, earning the nickname “The King of Blues”, and one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar”
King scored his first hit single in 1969 with ‘The Thrill is Gone’
“I had been carrying ‘The Thrill is Gone’ around for seven or eight years,” King said in the liner notes of King of the Blues. “Had tried it many times, but it would never come out like I wanted it.
“We were in the studio from about 10 o’clock to 3 in the morning and had done ‘The Thrill’ and a couple others. Funny thing was, [producer] Bill Szymczyk didn’t like it at first. About five in the morning he calls me …. he says ‘I’ve got this idea to put strings on “Thrill” ‘ and I said ‘fine.’ About two weeks later he got Bert de Coteaux to put strong son it and it really did enhance it.”
The 1990s saw the creation of B.B. King’s Blues Clubs starting in Memphis in 1991 and then Los Angeles in 1994. A third club opened in New York City in June 2000. King’s autobiography, Blues All Around Me, written with David Ritz, was published in 1996.
King was married twice, from 1942 to ’52 to Martha Lee Denton and then from 1958-66 to Sue Hall. He fathered 15 children with multiple women and had more than 50 grandkids. “About 15 times, a lady has said, ‘It’s either me or Lucille.’ That’s why I’ve had 15 children by 15 women.” says B.B. King.
Thank you for having the courage to share your talent with the world B.B. King. May your spirit have everlasting peace.