B.B. King, the ‘King of the Blues,’ Has Died

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 12: B.B. King performs on stage during the 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival at Madison Square Garden on April 12, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images)
B.B. King. Photo: Larry Busacca/2013 Getty Images

B.B. King, the undisputed king of the blues, has died in Las Vegas, according to his lawyer. He was 89. Attorney Brent Bryson told the AP that King “died peacefully in his sleep” Thursday night in his home. The blues legend was active (and inspirational) for more than half a century. With such influences as Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker, King started recording in the 1940s and, over the course of his seemingly timeless career, released close to 50 records. King and his signature Gibson guitar, Lucille, dominated the genre and nabbed 15 blues Grammys, as well as a Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also inducted into both the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Riley B. King was born in Mississippi — his stage initials stood for “Blues Boy” — and from an early age showed a proclivity and passion for performing. After growing up as a farmhand, King began his surge to blues stardom in the ‘40s and ‘50s in Memphis, before playing an astonishing string of shows along the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Throughout his lengthy career, King defied age and time, trudging on with no dearth of live performances (at least around 100 a year) well into his eighties. It seemed trouble was nigh, however, when he fell ill during a performance last year at the House of Blues and had to cancel the rest of his tour. The musician had type 2 diabetes, and after being hospitalized earlier this year, he reportedly entered hospice care. He passed his virtuosity on to such other greats as Eric Clapton and George Harrison, and leaves behind an expansive catalogue of music, punctuated by such hits as “The Thrill Is Gone,” “Playin’ With My Friends,” and “Every Day I Have the Blues,” among others.

In 1972, the BBC filmed B.B. King at a recording session at Command Studios, Piccadilly, London. Here he talks about his life, his music, and his own inspirations:

B.B. King, the ‘King of the Blues,’ Has Died