King of the Blues

Feeling the Blues​

Blues is known as a secular music that originated in the rural South, by African Americans in the early 20th century. However, this music is rooted in African American slave songs such as spirituals, shouts, hollers and work songs. Blues was a form of artistic expression for many, but to many more it was an outlet. The music was used to convey feelings of oppression, depression, and total anguish of 400 years of slavery and tenant farming enforced upon our ancestors. Like its name many artists simply sang to express moments of feeling blue and sometimes to express their sexual desires. 


The blues is characterized by a call-and-response pattern, with specific chord progression, the 12-bar (a style of music using a 12 bar chord progression using primary chords I, IV and V) sequence, lyrics, bass lines, and instrumentation. This genre of music is usually played by a solo musician on the saxophone, acoustic and electric guitar, piano or even a harmonica. Among the greats is B.B. King, who was able to influence a great deal of electric guitarists through his sophistication of soloing based on fluid string bending and shimmering vibrato. He was also one of the first crossover artists to make a huge impact in Rock music.


Life of B.B. King

Riley B. King was born September 16th, 1925 in Itta Bena, Mississippi. Many of us know King as an American producer, singer and guitarist who played an essential role in the development of the genre Blues. But before he became popular for music, he was a World War II veteran. After serving his time, King became a disc jockey in Tennessee, where he acquired his stage name B.B. King (Blues Boy).

Music Career

Born into a sharecropping family, King became very influential in not only Blues, even becoming an iconic model for Rock guitarists. Raised in the Mississippi Delta, King was introduced to singing through gospel music in the church. In addition to his ardent vocals, he played single-stringed guitar responses with a distinctive vibrato. His guitar style was influenced by icons such as T-Bone Walker, Django Reinhardt, Delta Blues, and Charlie Christian. 


Lucille – The Guitar

1949 was the year King recorded his first song and named his guitar. One night, King decided to attend a dance in Twist, Arkansas. At the event, there was a barrel of kerosene that was lit to provide warmth for the crowd. Not long after a fight broke out, knocking the barrel over, engulfing the entire area in flames. After evicting, King realized he had left his guitar behind and went back to get it, barely escaping with his life. After the course of events, King came to find out that the fight was caused by a woman named Lucille, and decided to name his guitar after her. 

Two years later he made a hit record “Three O’clock Blues,” which led to the beginning of both his local and international touring career. He toured for over 30 years, performing in over 300 shows per year. By the late 1960s, King was recognized for his influence on Rock guitarist’s among the broader white public. Not only was he recognized in Rock music, but also in his genre of Blues as they gave him the title “King of the Blues” due to his style of music. 

In 2008, the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center was opened in Indianola, Mississippi. It showcased exhibits of King’s music, his influences and the general history of the Mississippi Delta. King’s last performance was in April 2014, in St. Louis a little over a year before his passing in May 2015. Over his career, King won a number of awards and honors, including Grammy’s and Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Goerge W. Bush.

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