Ever since he was a child he always loved music and when a person he called reverend left his guitar in his room he would go in and try to play. One time the reverend caught him but, he saw the passion that Riley had for music and taught a few simple chords that formed the basis for B. B. King's later music
Riley's first guitar was bought at age 15 and he could not stop practicing. Then he joined a singing group called "The Famous St. John Gospel Singers" even though they weren't famous. Riley tried to convince them to go to Memphis but they wouldn't listen. So eventually Riley got married and settled for a life on the farm. Then one day Riley crashed his boss's tractor but, he was too afraid to face his boss so he hitchhiked a ride to Memphis with only $2,50 in his pocket.
Then later he started working on a main street called Beale Street where all the African American musicians would play and he learned a lot about music there playing and watching with the other musicians. Still he never became famous and after a couple of months he went back to live with his wife and he paid the boss back for repairs for the damaged tractor. A year later he and his wife moved to Memphis for a new start.
In his time most radio stations didn't play African American music but, one did, the WDIA. It played their music to get all kinds of attention by playing blues and jazz. Riley got a job at this station playing his song and singing them. Also after he would play on radio he would go play at a restaurant where many people who heard him on the radio went to go hear him live. Then his career truly started to take off.
Since Riley got famous people wanted to give him a catchier name so they called him Beale Street Blues Boy, but people thought that it was too much to say. After a little while they shortened it to Blues Boy king but, even that was too much so they shortened it again to Bee Bee King and, finally to B. B. King and that name stuck. B. B. had a perfect radio voice even though he had a slight stutter nobody noticed it because he sung slowly. Then people started writing to him, asking him to play their favorite songs. Soon he became the most popular disc jockey at his station.
In 1950 B. B. King had his own radio shown. He played a wide variety of music but never his own because he thought it would be like bragging. One of his favorite songs was “Three O’Clock Blues” by Lowell Fulson and he was one of the few disc jockey’s that actually played it. Fulson was moved by how much B. B. loved his song so he let B. B. record his own version of the famous song. That song alone made B. B. King a national star. For five weeks in 1952 his recording was the best selling blues record in the country. Suddenly everybody wanted to hear B. B. King play and he eventually started to tour around the country. As he career grew it required a lot of work and he had to hire other musicians to help him play. Out of the 366 days in the year 1956 there were only 24 night when he didn’t play.
When you listen to B. B. King play you can hear the depths of his emotions and you can see his face wrinkle up and his eyes squeezed shut. Sometimes he even wails the songs at the top of his lungs but, even when he would sing the most heartbreaking songs you could hear an ounce of joy in his music.
B. B. King would switch between him singing and his guitar singing. He thinks of his guitar as a woman with a beautiful voice and his guitar even has a name. Lucille. One day B. B. King ran out of a burning building but, he realized his guitar was still in the building so he rushed back inside and barely made it out alive. Then he heard how the fire had started. Two men knocked over a kerosene heater because of an argument over a woman named Lucille. After that he named all of his guitars Lucille and he always remembered to take good care of them. One day his guitar was stolen and he didn’t have enough money to buy a new so he snuck into the church and borrowed the pastor’s guitar. When he was on his way back to return the guitar he was involved in a car accident, but gladly he, everyone, and the guitar was perfectly fine. So when he returned the guitar he left some money inside it.
In the 1960’s B. B. King’s music was played in every African American household in the country but, he still wasn’t happy that his music wasn’t reaching everybody. What he didn’t know was that british groups such as the Rolling Stones were being affected. These musicians were reaching a wider audience. One of them, Paul Butterfield started a successful blues band. When people asked the lead guitarist Mike Bloomfield how he learned to play the blues, he replied “by copying B. B.’s licks.” When they asked, “B. B. who?” Bloomfield would say, “The real monster… B. B. King.”
People not only liked B. B. King because of his music but also because of his personality. In his autobiography he says “If I’m working with you and I sense you're feeling a little insecure, I try to make you feel great.” Since he was young he had mature insights into people’s emotional responses. Before his mother died she told him to always be kind to people and they will be kind back. One person said “If we had pictures instead of words in the dictionary, under the word ‘gracious’ would have to be B. B. King.”
Later in life B. B. King found out that he had diabetes and to test your blood sugar you would need to prick your finger but, for B. B. King that was not an option because then he wouldn’t be able to play guitar. So he had to find another way of testing his blood sugar so he started to prick his arm.
B. B. King was widely celebrated as the king of Blues. There were many publications about him. Fans yearn to own autographed “Lucille edition” copies of his guitar. Here are just a few awards he got:
- B. B. King was one of the first musicians inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- B. B. King has won more than a dozen Grammy Awards, including a special Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award
- In 2006, President George W. Bush awarded B. B. King the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest award given by the American government to a civilian
To most musicians, the sound of B. B. King’s guitar is instantly recognizable. He has a style of his own. B. B. is also a role model for performers. Many musicians say that it was B. B. King who started them on their careers. Once after a concert somebody heard Elvis Presley say “Thanks, man, for the early lessons you gave me.” Eric Clapton has said about B. B. King “I think he taps into something that is universal.” He also said that B. B. King is the best blues guitarist in the world. When John Lennon of the beatles was once asked what he’d like to be able to do he said “play guitar like B. B. King.”