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King of the Blues (1925-)

Riley King, Albert King and Nora Ella King's son was born on September 16, 1925, in Itta Benna, a small town in the state of Mississippi, isn't near anywhere, except other small towns like Inverness, where Howlin' Wolf was born, Rolling Fork, where Muddy Waters was born, Richland where Elmore James was born, and so on. 

Not that they would have grown up knowing each other because "near" in today's terms doesn't apply to Mississippi in the 30s and 40s when rural Blacks counted themselves privileged if they had a mule to ride.  When B.B. was four years old, his parents separated, and he grew up in the care of his maternal grandparents in Kilmichael, Mississippi.  His mother died when he was nine.  He had his first guitar at the age of 14, and began to sing in gospel chorus. 

In 1940, B.B. moved in with his father's new family in Lexington, Mississippi for two years before returning to Kilmichael, and subsequently, Indianola.  It wasn't untill he was singing for some soldiers that he realized he had to sing the Blues.  He wrecked a tractor on the Barret farm near Indianola in 1946, and decided that his future might be brighter in Memphis.  When B.B. tallies his years in the music business, he usually starts counting at 1946. 

There, he kept in touch with Bukka White, whom he learned some techniques, such as "bottleneck", but without slide.  "I tried to play the slide like him, but I wasn't able to do it, so I began to make my hand vibrate, and with the help of an amplifier, I could sustain the sound."  They worked nearly 10 months together, before B.B. went back to Indianola.  Then he went to Memphis again with some money in his pocket, by the end of 1948, Beale Street straight ahead.  He took up parts in some local contests at the Palace Theatre. 

He met the Beale Streeters, musicians such as Bobby Bland, Rosco Gordon, John Alexander, and Little Junior Parker, whom he shared performances sometimes.  In 1949, two very important facts would happen in his life: When he was playing in Twist (Arkansas), two guys were arguing over a woman named Lucille. 

They pushed over a bucket full of querosen, used for stove, and set the place on fire.  The two men died.  King was able to save his guitar, a Gibson 335, which was baptized as Lucille, so as not to forget that once he almost lost his life for it.  The second fact was the opportunity that Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) gave him, to sing a song in his radio program.  King succeeded, and sometime later, he had his own 10 minutes at the WDIA, under the sponsor of Pep-ti-kon, a cure all. 

"Get Pep-ti-kon today and see if you don't say "Man, I'm really living."  But he didn't know Pep-ti-kon's major ingredient was alcohol.  Then he began to be known as "The Blues Boy from Beale Street, Bee Bee King" which first shorted into Blues Boy King, and finally, B.B. King.  At the age of 73, B.B. King has taken the Blues to all the people, from the old ones to the youth, black or white, worldwide.  He has been the most successful Bluesman on the charts.  


Revised: July 18, 2013.