Yesterday, the world lost a living legend. The incomparable Riley "B.B." King, the UNDISPUTED, KING OF THE BLUES. He passed away peacefully, Thursday night, in his sleep. It has been reported, that in the past month, Mr. King, suffered a series of mini-strokes, due to complications, of his long battle with diabetes. His death has left me and the world, with a sadness and a heaviness in our hearts.
The man who belted out such songs, as the The Thrill Is Gone, How Blue Can You Get, A Bad Case of Love, and Why I Sing the Blues, has exited stage right, for the last time.
Born Riley B. King, September 16th, 1925,on a cotton plantation, called Berclair. the son of sharecroppers, Albert and Nora King. At age 4, after his mother left the family, Riley went to live with his grandmother, Elnora Farr, in Kilmichael, Mississippi. He joined the church choir and as a young kid, worked as a tractor driver. At the age of 12, he purchased his first guitar, and the rest is musical history!. His musical talent, came to earn him the name, The King of the Blues. And I don't believe there are any among us, who would dare to ever, dispute that!
My earliest memories of music, were B.B. King songs. My grandmother (who, coincidentally shared a birthday with Mr. King) used to have stacks upon stacks of 45s. For the younger readers, those were what we called, records. He was her favorite artist and her favorite song, of his, was "Let the Good Times Roll" featuring Bobby "Blue" Bland. Another blues legend. Every couple of years I will listen to that song, and immediately, I can see my grandmother's smile, in my mind.
Music is powerful like that. It transcends space and time. It tears down racial and cultural barriers. It is, it's own, entity. It has a life, story, and history of it's own. It can take you back to a place in your life, that you thought, you'd otherwise forgotten. You can instantly remember what you were doing, where you were, how you felt, your state of mind and who was around. Sometimes the memories are good, other times, not so much. Music has, and always, will be, a huge part of my life and journey. Especially, the blues. It has gotten me through some of the darkest and most difficult times, in my life. It has saved lives. It has empowered and propelled us. When you listen to crooning of the musicians and their instruments, it feels like they are telling your story. The art really is in the storytelling. The painful notes being blown out the saxophone, the crying of the guitar, helps you to know that you are not alone. Someone else has been there too. Your life, on wax. LOL! And Lucille, KNEW HOW to cry .She. Knew. How. To. Cry. It was like she'd lived a hundred lifetimes. You could feel her struggle, the loves lost, the story of no money and a broken heart. Then B.B. would cosign and say "You wanna know why I sing the blues? This is why! Because I only have a dollar and quarter to my name, my baby done left me, and don't nobody love but my moma, but she could be jivin' too!"
The picture below, was taken last year in Memphis, on Beale St. in front of B.B. Kings. Lucille Tells All is one of my favorite songs by him. She always had a lot to tell. The story of how her name came to be, as told by B.B., always makes me laugh.
He says that one night, he was playing a gig, in Twist, Arkansas, and 2 men started fighting over a woman, named Lucille. It was in the dead of winter, and back then there was no central heat, so the clubs sometimes used kerosene heaters to warm the place up. During the fight the heater was knocked over and it set the club on fire. B.B. ran in to save his guitar, as the walls were crumbling. The next day, he learned that the two men died as a result of the fire. He named his guitar,Lucille, as a reminder to not do "stupid things" like fighting over women and running into burning buildings.
Three weeks ago, when I first heard that King was sick, I watched footage of him and James Brown performing a concert called Legends in Concert-One Night Special. It was by invitation only, and Michael Jackson happened to be in the audience, and of course James invited him up to perform.
It was beautiful, to see those 3 Legends, share a stage together, and bless us with their beautiful gifts of music and song. I sat there with joy in my heart and tears in my eyes. I thought about how Michael and James had inspired us all and now they were no longer with us, and the fact that B.B. was sick and that time, hospitalized.
I began to pray for him. That God would bear him up on every leaning side, and that He would give him comfort during his battle with his illness. I thanked God for blessing us with him, and for the diversity of gifts. Because EVERY GOOD, and perfect gift comes from the Lord. We have all been given something from God to help others. I thanked God for his longevity. God promises us 3 score and 10, or 70 yrs, and by reasonable strength, 80 yrs. Mr. King was 89 years old. What a blessing. He performed for over 6 decades, right up until his health wouldn't allow him to anymore. He, with his humility, his guitar, and the blues, touched people all over the world. He performed in front of dignitaries, presidents, and common folk. He played with, and influenced some of the greatest musicians of our time, like Eric Clapton, Jimmy Ray Vaughn and Bonnie Rait, just to name a few, I could never list them all here. They are too numerous, just like his discography. He's been around the world, and back again, many times over. From Montreux to Beale St. He's won 12 Grammy and is in every music hall of fame there is. Not bad for a son of a sharecropper, is it?!
So yes, even though we mourn the loss of one of the world's biggest musical giants, I can simultaneously smile, with joy in my heart, for the gift that God gave us, Mr. Riley "B.B." King. You have run your race and finished your course. Rest well, Good Sir! We'll see you on the other side.
A few photos of our trip to Memphis Tennesse's Beale St. last yr.