Arts, Music, News

B.B. King is dead but his music lives on

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By Frederick H. Lowe

Legendary Bluesman B.B. King died Thursday night in his Las Vegas home from a series of small strokes, a spokesperson for the Clark County (Nevada) Coroner’s Office, told NorthStarNewsToday.com on Monday.

Mr. King had been receiving home hospice care since May 1, following a second hospital stay in April when he suffered Multi-infarct dementia, which was caused by the strokes. The dementia meant that Mr. King experienced a permanent loss of his brain function.

An announcement on his website BBKing.com said he passed away quietly in his sleep at 9:40 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. He was 89 years old.  Mr. King suffered from diabetes and high-blood pressure. For years he appeared in television commercials promoting products that controlled diabetes, a blood disease.

B.B. King and Lucille, his guitar. Mr. King died last week.
B.B. King and Lucille, his guitar.

Last concert was in Chicago

On October 3, 2014, King did not feel well enough to continue his performance at the House of Blues in Chicago.

“He was immediately evaluated by a doctor and diagnosed with dehydration and suffering from exhaustion whereby causing the eight remaining shows to be cancelled,” according to a post on his website. In 2014, he gave more than 70 performances.

Mr. King is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and is universally considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. His biggest hit record was “The Thrill is Gone,” which was released in 1970.  He played the song on “Lucille,” his guitar. Mr. King’s first No. 1 hit record was “Three O’Clock Blues,” which he recorded  in 1952. He won 15 Grammys during his musical career.

Although he was known as a great musician, Mr. King also was a businessman. In 1991, he opened the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Memphis. Later, he opened a second club in New York City.

Mr. King was born Riley B. King on September 16, 1925, in Berclair, Miss., which advertises itself as the birthplace of B.B. King. His parents Albert and Nora Ella King were sharecroppers. When his mother left his father for another man, B.B. King was raised by his grandmother, Elnora Farr.

B.B. King would return to Mississippi to honor Medgar Evers
B.B. King would return to Mississippi to honor Medgar Evers, Field Secretary for the NAACP. Evers was assassinated on June 12, 1963, in Jackson, Mississippi.

Mr. King often returned to Mississippi to honor slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers and later to attend B.B. King Homecoming at Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena and music workshops in Indianola.

In 2004, Mississippi Valley State opened the B.B. King Recording Studio. Four years later, the State of Mississippi opened the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola.

Early in his life, he played on the streets of Memphis where he was given the name Blues Boy, which was shortened to B.B. King. Mr. King also worked as a deejay for radio station WDIA. One of several tribute photos on the WDIA website shows a young B.B. King playing a guitar with the words “B.B. King, W.D.I.A., 5:30 p.m.” written on the instrument.

In 2014, “The Life of Riley,” a documentary film about Mr. King was released.

The film, which is narrated by Academy Award winning actor Morgan Freeman, discusses the unrelenting racism Mr. King faced working the cotton fields in the South. The documentary also explores the challenges he faced getting his music heard.

A public viewing will be held Friday, May 22, from 3 p.m.  to 7 p.m. at Palm Mortuary West in Las Vegas. Mr. King will be buried on the grounds of the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola.

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