1925 – B.B. King (Riley King) is born in Itta Bena…

B.B. King

1925 – B.B. King (Riley King) is born in Itta Bena, Miss. He is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and receives a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1987. His biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone,” is released in 1969. He also records the hit “When Love Comes To Town” with rock band U2 in 1988.

B. B. King (born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925) is an American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter. Critical acclaim and widespread popularity have cemented his reputation as one of the most respected and successful blues musicians. Rolling Stone magazine named him the third-greatest guitarist of “the 100 greatest guitarists of all-time.

B. B. King arrived in Memphis for the first time in 1946 to work as a musician, but after a few months of hardship he left, going back to Mississippi. There he decided to prepare himself better for the next visit and returned to Memphis two years later. Initially he worked at the local R&B radio channel WDIA as a singer. In 1949, he began recording songs under contract with Los Angeles-based RPM Records. Many of King’s early recordings were produced by Sam Phillips, who later founded Sun Records. King was also a disc jockey in Memphis, where he gained the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy”, later shortened to “B. B.” Before his RPM contract, B. B. had debuted on Bullet Records by issuing the single “Miss Martha King” (1949), which got a bad review in Billboard magazine and did not chart well. King is often labelled as The King of Blues.

In the 1950s, B. B. King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits including “You Know I Love You,” “Woke Up This Morning,” “Please Love Me,” “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer,” “Whole Lotta Love,” “You Upset Me Baby,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Sneakin’ Around,” “Ten Long Years,” “Bad Luck,” “Sweet Little Angel,” “On My Word of Honor,” and “Please Accept My Love.” In 1962, B. B. King signed to ABC-Paramount Records, which was later absorbed into MCA Records, and then his current label, Geffen Records.

In November 1964, King recorded the Live at the Regal album at the Regal Theater in Chicago, Illinois.
B. B. King in concert in France (1989)

King’s first success outside the blues market was his 1969 remake of Roy Hawkins’ tune “The Thrill Is Gone.” King’s version became a hit on both pop and R&B charts, which was rare for an R&B artist. It also gained the number 183 spot in Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Songs Of All Time. He gained further rock visibility as an opening act on The Rolling Stones much-ballyhooed 1969 American Tour. King’s mainstream success continued throughout the 1970s with songs like “To Know You Is to Love You” and “I Like to Live the Love.”

The 1980s, 1990s and 2000s saw King recording less and less. Yet throughout this time he maintained a highly visible and active career, appearing on numerous television shows and performing 300 nights a year. In 1988 King reached a new generation of fans with the single “When Love Comes To Town”, a collaborative effort between King and the Irish band U2 (on their Rattle and Hum album). In 2000, King teamed up with guitarist Eric Clapton to record Riding With the King. In 1998 B. B. King appeared in “The Blues Brothers 2000” playing the part of the lead singer of the Louisiana Gator Boys, along with Eric Clapton, Dr. John, Koko Taylor, and Bo Diddley.

In 2003, King shared the stage with the rock band Phish in New Jersey, performing three of his classics and jamming with the band for over 45 minutes.

In June 2006, King was present at a memorialization of his first radio broadcast at the Three Deuces Building in Greenwood, Mississippi, where an official marker of the Mississippi Blues Trail was erected.

B. B. King also made an appearance at the Crossroads Guitar Festival put on by Eric Clapton. On the DVD, he plays “Paying The Cost To Be The Boss” and “Rock Me Baby” with Robert Cray, Jimmie Vaughan, and Hubert Sumlin.

In June 2006, a groundbreaking was held for a new B. B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi. The museum is scheduled to open September 13, 2008.

B. B. King was also the final performer at the 25th annual Chicago Blues Festival on June 8, 2008.

In June 2008, B. B. King was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame alongside Liza Minnelli and Sir James Galway.

In July 2008, Sirius/XM Radio’s Bluesville channel was re-named B. B. King’s Bluesville.

Farewell tour

Aged 80 at the time, on 29 March 2006, King played at the Sheffield’s Hallam Arena. This was the first date of his UK and European farewell tour. He played this tour supported by ex-shredder/rocker turned bluesman Gary Moore, with whom King had previously toured and recorded, including the song “Since I Met You Baby”. The British leg of the tour ended on 4 April with a final UK concert at Wembley Arena.

In July King went back to Europe, playing twice (2 & 3 July) in the 40th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival and also in Zürich at the Blues at Sunset on 14 July. During his show in Montreux at the Stravinski Hall he jammed with Joe Sample, Randy Crawford, David Sanborn, Gladys Knight, Lella James, Earl Thomas, Stanley Clarke, John McLaughlin, Barbara Hendricks and George Duke. The European leg of the Farewell tour ended in Luxembourg on 19 September 2006 at the D’Coque Arena (support act: Todd Sharpville).
Live at Montreux, July 2006
Live at Montreux, July 2006

In November and December, King played six times in Brazil. During a press conference on November 29 in São Paulo, a journalist asked King if that would be the actual farewell tour. He answered: “One of my favorite actors is a man from Scotland named Sean Connery. Most of you know him as James Bond, 007. He made a movie called Never Say Never Again.

On 28 July 2007, King played at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival with 20 other guitarists to raise money for the Crossroads Centre, Antigua for addictive disorders.

In June 2008, King played at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee, and on 1 August 2008, he performed at the South Shore Music Circus in Cohasset, Massachusetts.


Over 52 years B. B. King played at least 15,000 performances.

He has made guest appearances in numerous popular television shows, including The Cosby Show,

King is the subject of a biography, B. B. King: There is Always One More Time, by the noted New York-based music writer David McGee.

In the Beatles’ song “Dig It” from the Let It Be sessions, John Lennon states “Like the FBI…and the CIA…and the BBC…BB King…and Doris Day…Matt Busby…Dig it…”

King played with many musicians over the years. One was the organist Les Whitt, the director of the municipal zoo in Alexandria, Louisiana, from 1974 until his death in 2008.

Personal life
B. B. King at Roy Thomson Hall, Toronto, ON, Canada

The son of Alfred King and Nora Ella King, B. B. King has had two wives to date: Martha Lee Denton, 1946 to 1952, and Sue Carol Hall, 1958 to 1966. Both marriages ended because of the heavy demands made on the marriage by King’s 250 performances a year. It is reported that he has fathered 15 children by different women.

King is a licensed pilot, a known gambler, a vegetarian, non-drinker, and non-smoker. He has lived with Type II Diabetes for over twenty years and is a visible spokesman in the fight against the disease, appearing in advertisements for diabetes-management products.

On January 26, 2007, while on tour, King was hospitalized in Galveston, Texas, because of a low-grade (100.4°F / 38°C) fever after a recent bout of influenza. He was released on January 27, after an overnight stay. He resumed his touring on January 30 in Texas and gave another thirty performances in the U.S.

His favorite singer is Frank Sinatra. In his autobiography King speaks about how he was, and is, a “Sinatra nut” and how he went to bed every night listening to Sinatra’s classic album In the Wee Small Hours. King has credited Sinatra for opening doors to black entertainers who weren’t given the chance to play in “white dominated” venues. Sinatra got B. B. King into the main showrooms in Vegas during the 1960s.

Each year, during the first week in June, a B. B. King homecoming festival is held in Indianola, Mississippi.

Famed Delta Blues artist Bukka White was King’s first cousin.

Boxer Sonny Liston was King’s uncle.

By his own admission, he cannot play chords very well and always relies on improvisation.


In the mid-1950s, while B.B. was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas, a few fans became unruly. Two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove, setting fire to the hall. B.B. raced outdoors to safety with everyone else, then realized that he left his beloved $30 acoustic guitar inside, so he rushed back inside the burning building to retrieve it, narrowly escaping death. When he later found out that the fight had been over a woman named Lucille, he decided to give the name to his guitar to remind him never to do a crazy thing like fight over a woman. Ever since, each one of B.B.’s trademark Gibson guitars has been called Lucille.


Main article: B. B. King discography


1. The Electric B. B. King – His Best (1960)
2. Great Moments with B. B. King (1981)
3. The King of the Blues: 1989 (1988)
4. Got My Mojo Working (1989)
5. King of the Blues (Box Set, 1992)
6. Why I Sing the Blues (1992)
7. Blues Brothers 2000; (1998)
8. Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: B. B. King; (2003)
9. Ultimate Collection (2005)
10. B. B. King: Live (2008)

Honors and awards

* On May 27, 2007, King was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Brown University. Thirty years earlier, in May 1977, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Yale University.
* On December 15, 2006, President George W. Bush awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
* In 2004, he was awarded an honorary Ph.D from the University of Mississippi and the Royal Swedish Academy of Music awarded him the Polar Music Prize, for his “significant contributions to the blues”.
* King was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1990.
* He was officially inducted 1987 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, becoming one of the first artists to be honored by the museum.

A commemorative guitar pick honoring “B.B. King Day” in Portland, Maine.

* Grammy Awards – King was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987.
* King was awarded the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995. This is given to recognize “the lifelong accomplishments and extraordinary talents of our Nation’s most prestigious artists.”
* In 1991, B. B. King was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship from the NEA.
* On May 14, 2008, King was presented with the keys to the City of Utica, New York.
* On May 18, 2008, the mayor of Portland, Maine, Edward Suslovic, declared the day “B. B. King Day” in the city. Prior to King’s performance at the Merrill Auditorium, Suslovic presented King with the keys to the city

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