Born September 16, 1925, on a cotton plantation near the town of Itta Bena in Mississippi, B.B. King is considered as one of the greatest blues musicians of all time.
For nearly 7 decades, he came to represent the folk music sound created by African-Americans in the Deep South.
King was primarily raised in the state by his maternal grandmother and sang in church choirs as a boy.
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A great aunt shared vintage Blues records with King, which influenced him greatly. After the death of his mother and grandmother, King worked in the cotton fields as well but soon learned that singing and playing the guitar in and around the town of Indianola would pay far more.
King moved to Memphis, Tennessee, in 1946, living with his cousin and Blues musician Bukka White. Under White’s tutelage, King became an adept guitar player and began studying other players.
In 1948, King made a performance appearance on an all-Black radio station, KWEM. After his impressive debut, King was a fixture at the Sixteenth Avenue Grill in West Memphis.
As his fame and talent grew, King tried on a pair of new stage names. One of them was Beale Street Blues Boy, which he then changed to Blues Boy King. King eventually chose B.B. to represent earlier interpretations.
King made his recording debut in 1949 and signed a record deal with RPM Records in 1950. King earned a reputation of being one of the hardest-working performers of any genre. That tenacity and commitment to performing translated into success on the charts as he amassed a number of top R&B hits.
Just as famous as King and his burly vocals was his guitar, nicknamed “Lucille.” According to legend, King was playing a show when a fight started between two men and sparked a fire. Before the blaze took the building down, King went back to get his guitar.
King claimed that the men were fighting over a woman named Lucille, and named his guitar such to remind himself to not fight over women or risk his life for any reason ever again.
King recorded 43 studio albums, 16 live albums, and released 138 singles. He won 15 Grammy Awards in total and owns the distinction of having the most honours in the Blues category.
Also unknown to many was that King was a licensed private airplane pilot and even flew himself to his own gigs across the nation. He was ordered away from doing so by his management but still continued to fly until he was 70.
King was entered into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984 and later the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In the 1990s, he also opened a chain of restaurants bearing his namesake.
Also in 1990, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of the Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006 among countless other honors and awards.
In 2008, the B.B. King Museum was opened in Memphis. Stricken with Type 2 diabetes, the twice-married King was a spokesperson in ads aimed at combating the disease. King finally retired from performing in October 2014 due to health complications. King entered hospice care in Las Vegas, Nevada, before passing away on May 14, 2015.
To celebrate his birthday, Face2Face Africa shares with you 10 of his greatest hits: