The King of Blues: B.B. King

“The blues was bleeding the same blood as me.” 

The legendary blues artist Riley B. King, aka B.B. King, died on Thursday night in Las Vegas at the age of 89. 

The iconic blues guitarist, known for his chart-topping hits including “Three O’Clock Blues”, “You Upset Me Baby” and  “The Thrill Is Gone”, was born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi in 1925. After hitchhiking to Memphis, Tennessee in 1947, King got his first big break by performing on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program out of West Memphis. His disc jokey name at the time was Beale Street Blues Boy, or BB for short. As his popularity on the radio grew, King shortened “Beale Street Blues Boy” to “Blues Boy King,” and eventually B.B. King.

The Mississippi native’s reign as “the king of blues” lasted more than six decades, straddled two centuries, spawned 75 R&B hits and influenced countless musicians. With a long list of honors to his name — Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Presidential Medal of Freedom, National Medal of Arts — King maintained a rigorous touring schedule well into his 80s, appearing in an average of more than 200 concerts per year. In 1956 alone, he reportedly appeared at 342 shows.

30 Grammy nominations (15 wins) and one beloved guitar named Lucille later,  King brought the blues from the margins to the mainstream and and forever changed the way we listen to music. 

Photos by Estate Of Keith Morris/Redferns