Celebrity | Entertainment
B. B. King is in the eighth decade of his life (he turned 82 in 2007) and can probably lay claim to being America's most active senior, as well as giving James Brown competition as "The Hardest Working Man In Show Business." He is in his seventh decade as a performer, having moved from small town street corner for nickels and dimes to big city concert halls for top dollar. As a recording artist, he celebrates his sixth decade, with million sellers and 14 Grammy Awards on his resume. He is, and remains, a force of nature, still at the top of his game and still looking down new musical avenues in which to present his brand of the blues. And, as ever, he lives his life by the clicking of the odometer.
Mr. King continues to tour today just as he has done for the past 60+ years, although in more comfort than in the early years of rickety, drafty, bone-crunching buses, playing the juke joints, tobacco barns, gin mitts, hole-in-the-wail clubs, bars and funky saloons that comprised the "chitlin circuit" for black blues and R&B musicians and became a convenient form of segregation. Today his bus transport comes equipped with dressing room, allowing him to step out--all tux'd and ready to play--from bus door to stage door. He may have moved his touring schedule down a notch from the early average of 300 gigs a year--in 1958 he clocked in a bone-wearying total of 342 one-nighters--to around 150 but still remains in the top financial bracket, just as he has for the past 30+ years. This is the time of his potent crossover appeal and when he has taken his blues brand to youthful rock audiences.
Today they are building The B. B. King Museum and Delta Interactive Center in Indianola, MS. It will serve as a combined B. B. King showcase, learning facility, recording studio, and tourist attraction. This is heady stuff for Riley B. King (B. B. King's real name) who was raised in this area initially by a single mother.
Mr. King's first taste of the music that would shape his life came from a preacher relative who played guitar during his services. He also heard some jazz guitarists and early electric bluesmen such as T. Bone Walker, Charlie Christian and the French musician Django Reinhardt. His name for his guitars comes from the time when he rescued his guitar from a burning building, ignited by two men fighting over a woman. Her name was Lucille. So he called his guitars Lucille to remind himself not to do anything stupid over a woman.
As B. B. King's career progressed, touring and recording (to date, more than 70 albums bear his name), some honors began to roll in. A sampling: Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award (1987) to go with his 14 other Grammy Awards, inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (87), Blues Foundation Hall of Fame (84), seven W. C. Handy Foundation Entertainer of the Year Awards, and honorary doctorates from Yale University, Berklee College, Rhodes College, of Memphis, Mississippi Valley State University, and a National Award of Distinction from the University of Mississippi. A diabetic himself, he also represents the National Diabetes Association and appears in TV commercials showing that a diabetic can lead a fulfilling, active life.
In 2005, Bulfinch Press published B. B. King's Treasures: Photos, Mementos and Music from B. B. King's Collection, a combination biography and collector's edition. B. B. King also has his own chain of blues clubs across the country, starting with Memphis in 1994. The New York club was the scene of a very special event in King's career in 2006--his 10,000th performance. Mr. King says "I may live in Las Vegas now but the road is my real home." When sidelined for cataract surgery a couple of years ago, he noted: "I have not had three months off in 57 years. Home is any place I stay for three nights!" B. B. King is well aware that he is the last of the great ones still working, but he is philosophical about it. "I don't class myself other than just a blues singer, and every time my peers recognize the work, it's an honor, a reason to go on. In my lifetime, blues music has certainly grown in its universal appeal and I'm forever grateful for that."
President George W. Bush honored Mr. B. B. King on December 15, 2006 as one of the recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Nation's highest civil award. Established in 1963, the Medal may be awarded by the President "to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1) the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."
B. B. King will enlighten audiences with stories of his rise in the music business and the history of blues. Onstage with his guitar Lucille, Mr. King talks about the technical aspects of playing guitar, what inspired him to write various songs and why he's still playing guitar after all these years.
BOOKS Search For A Book