B.B. King (1925-2015)

B.B. King, 1998
Courtesy John Matthew Smth (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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Legendary blues singer B.B. King was born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 in Itta Bena, Mississippi.  King spent his childhood in the Mississippi Delta, but in 1946 left to pursue a music career in Memphis, Tennessee.  While in Memphis, King was employed as a singer and disc jockey at radio station WDIA where he was given the radio name “Beale Street Blues Boy” which he shortened to B.B.  In 1949 while at WDIA he recorded many of his early singles for RPM records in Los Angeles, California.

King began to have significant success as a blues artist in the 1950s with a string of recordings such as “Please Love Me,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” and “Ten Long Years.”  His hits brought him to the attention of Paramount Records which signed the blues performer in 1962.  In November 1964 he recorded Live at the Regal at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois, at that point one of the most successful blues albums ever produced.

Despite his exposure on a leading record label and his Live album, King’s first national hit came only in 1969 when he released “The Thrill Is Gone” a song that rose on the blues, rhythm and blues, and pop charts.  That same year King became the Rolling Stones’ opening act, a development that exposed him to a much wider audience.

King’s success continued into the 1970s with hits like “I Like to Live the Love” and “To Know You is to Love You.”  King’s career peaked in that decade although he continued to tour into the 21st Century.  In some years he performed over 300 shows a year.  In 1988 King reached a new audience when he recorded “When Love Comes to Town” with the Irish band U2.

Although his music was never overwhelmingly successful commercially, King has been recognized by the recording industry as an important influence.  Over his career he has garnered 14 Grammys including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.  King has also received honorary doctorates in music from Brown and Yale University and an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Mississippi.  In June 2006 King participated in the groundbreaking ceremony for the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center scheduled to open in September 2008.  On December 15, 2006, President George W. Bush awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Since 2001 King has become an important spokesperson for diabetes awareness.  Suffering from Type II diabetes since the 1980s, King has made numerous TV appearances promoting awareness of the disease.

Riley B.(B.B). King passed away May 14, 2015 at his Las Vegas, Nevada home. He was 89.