Brief Profile: B.B. King

by Duke Magazine

Riley B. King, popularly know as B.B. King, was an American artist, songwriter, guitarist, and record producer. 

 King was exuberant throughout his musical career, performing on an average 200 concerts in a year into his 70s. In the year 1956 only, he performed at 342 shows.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, King was a part of the blues scene on Beale Street. “Beale Street was where it all started for me,” King stated. He performed with Bobby Bland, Earl Forest, and Johnny Ace in a group called The Beale Streeters.

King later went ahead to build his own band; the B.B. King Review, under the leadership of Millard Lee. The band initially consisted of Calvin Owens and Kenneth Sands (trumpet), Lawrence Burdin (alto saxophone), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Floyd Newman (baritone saxophone), Millard Lee (piano), George Joyner (bass) and Earl Forest and Ted Curry (drums). Onzie Horne was an experienced musician elicited as an arranger in aiding King with his compositions. By his own admission, King could not play chords well and always relied on assistance.

With a breakthrough in his first Billboard Rhythm and Blues song “3 O’Clock Blues” occupying the number one on the chart in February 1952, B.B. King then became one of the best artists to reckon with, when talking about the R&B music in the 1950s. His heart warming music projects him with an interesting playlist including “You Know I Love You”, “Woke Up This Morning”, “Please Love Me”, “When My Heart Beats like a Hammer”, “Whole Lotta Love”, “You Upset Me Baby”, “Sneakin’ Around”, “Ten Long Years”, “Bad Luck”, “On My Word of Honor”, and “Please Accept My Love”. This breathtaking music of his added a significant upturn to his earnings from $85 to an approximately $2,500, with appearances at major venues like the Apollo in New York City, the Howard Theater in Washington.

 1956 became a record-breaking year, with 342 concerts booked and three recording sessions. It was in that same year he founded his own record label, Blues Boys Kingdom, with headquarters at Beale Street in Memphis. 

King was later inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and also the Official Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2014.  In 2004, he was awarded the international Polar Music Prize, given to artists “in recognition of exceptional achievements in the creation and advancement of music.”

On February 21, 2012, King was among the performers of “In Performance at the White House: Red, White and Blues,” during which the US former President Barack Obama sang the part of “Sweet Home Chicago” with King.

King was later diagnosed with dehydration and exhaustion in 2014, and which led to the cancellation of about eight remaining shows of his tour then until his final breath in 2015.

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