Blues legend B.B. King succumbs at 89

RFP wire reports | 5/22/2015, 11:58 a.m. | Updated on 5/22/2015, 12:04 p.m.
B.B. King believed that anyone could play the blues, and that “as long as people have problems, the blues can ...
Mr. King

B.B. King believed that anyone could play the blues, and that “as long as people have problems, the blues can never die.”

But no one could play the blues like this guitar master, who died Thursday, May 14, 2015, in this Nevada tourism and gambling center where he had long made his home and where he had been in hospice care.

The music legend was 89.

Mr. King was still performing 100 dates a year well into his 80s, even though he suffered from diabetes and other health problems.

His death was attributed to a series of small strokes that was linked to his longstanding battle with Type 2 diabetes, his physician and the coroner in Las Vegas reported.

“The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend,” President Obama stated in a tribute.

“No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues,” the president stated.

He recalled Mr. King’s concert at the White House in 2012 where the artist unexpectedly talked the president into singing a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago” with him. “That was the kind of effect his music had, and still does. He gets stuck in your head, he gets you moving, he gets you doing the things you probably shouldn’t do — but will always be glad you did. B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever.”

The blues genius was born Riley B. King on Sept. 16, 1925, to sharecropper parents. The initials he used were a shortened version of the “Blues Boy” nickname he was dubbed for his live performances on a Memphis, Tenn., radio station.

Along with his music, he was married twice and had 15 biological and adopted children.

His place in the pantheon of American music is well established.

Mr. King was named the third greatest guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, after Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman, who died in their 20s, an age when Mr. King was just getting started.

A 1992 New York Times review helps explain his appeal: “Mr. King’s electric guitar can sing simply, embroider and drag out unresolved harmonic tensions to delicious extremes. It shrinks and swells with the precision of the human voice.”

He won 15 Grammy Awards, sold more than 40 million records worldwide, a remarkable number for the blues, and was inducted into the blues and rock and roll halls of fame.

His album “Live at the Regal” has been declared a historic sound and permanently preserved in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.

Mr. King played a Gibson guitar he affectionately called Lucille, with a style that included beautifully crafted single-string runs punctuated by loud chords, subtle vibratos and bent notes, building on the standard 12-bar blues and improvising like a jazz master.

The result could hypnotize an audience, no more so than when Mr. King used it to full effect on his signature song, “The Thrill is Gone.”

Despite the celebrity he achieved, his farewell will be surprisingly low key.