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‘King of the Blues’ Blues Legend B.B. King Dead at Age 89

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In this Feb. 16, 2007 file photo, B.B. King performs at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, in Salisbury, Md.  King died Thursday, May 14, 2015, peacefully in his sleep at his Las Vegas home at age 89, his lawyer said. (Matthew S. Gunby/The Daily Times via AP) NO SALES

In this Feb. 16, 2007 file photo, B.B. King performs at the Wicomico Youth and Civic Center, in Salisbury, Md. King died Thursday, May 14, 2015, peacefully in his sleep at his Las Vegas home at age 89, his lawyer said. (Matthew S. Gunby/The Daily Times via AP)

Ken Ritter, ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

 

LAS VEGAS (AP) — B.B. King, whose scorching guitar licks and heartfelt vocals made him the idol of generations of musicians and fans while earning him the nickname King of the Blues, died late Thursday at home in Las Vegas. He was 89.

His attorney, Brent Bryson, told The Associated Press that King died peacefully in his sleep at 9:40 p.m. PDT. He said funeral arrangements were underway.

Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg confirmed the death.

King’s eldest surviving daughter Shirley King of the Chicago area said she was upset that she didn’t have a chance to see her father before he died.

Although he had continued to perform well into his 80s, the 15-time Grammy winner suffered from diabetes and had been in declining health during the past year. He collapsed during a concert in Chicago last October, later blaming dehydration and exhaustion. He had been in hospice care at his Las Vegas home.

For most of a career spanning nearly 70 years, Riley B. King was not only the undisputed king of the blues but a mentor to scores of guitarists, who included Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and Keith Richards. He recorded more than 50 albums and toured the world well into his 80s, often performing 250 or more concerts a year.

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.

The result could bring chills to an audience, no more so than when King used it to full effect on his signature song, “The Thrill is Gone.” He would make his guitar shout and cry in anguish as he told the tale of forsaken love, then end with a guttural shouting of the final lines: “Now that it’s all over, all I can do is wish you well.”

His style was unusual. King didn’t like to sing and play at the same time, so he developed a call-and-response between him and Lucille.

“Sometimes I just think that there are more things to be said, to make the audience understand what I’m trying to do more,” King told The Associated Press in 2006. “When I’m singing, I don’t want you to just hear the melody. I want you to relive the story, because most of the songs have pretty good storytelling.”

A preacher uncle taught him to play, and he honed his technique in abject poverty in the Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the blues.

“I’ve always tried to defend the idea that the blues doesn’t have to be sung by a person who comes from Mississippi, as I did,” he said in the 1988 book “Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music.”

“People all over the world have problems,” he said. “And as long as people have problems, the blues can never die.”

Fellow travelers who took King up on that theory included Clapton, the British-born blues-rocker who collaborated with him on “Riding With the King,” a best-seller that won a Grammy in 2000 for best traditional blues album.

Singer Smokey Robinson praised the music legend.

“The world has physically lost not only one of the greatest musical people ever but one of the greatest people ever. Enjoy your eternity,” Robinson said.

Still, the Delta’s influence was undeniable. King began picking cotton on tenant farms around Indianola, Mississippi, before he was a teenager, being paid as little as 35 cents for every 100 pounds, and was still working off sharecropping debts after he got out of the Army during World War Two.

“He goes back far enough to remember the sound of field hollers and the cornerstone blues figures, like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson,” ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons once told Rolling Stone magazine.

King got his start in radio with a gospel quartet in Mississippi, but soon moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where a job as a disc jockey at WDIA gave him access to a wide range of recordings. He studied the great blues and jazz guitarists, including Django Reinhardt and T-Bone Walker, and played live music a few minutes each day as the “Beale Street Blues Boy,” later shortened to B.B.

Through his broadcasts and live performances, he quickly built up a following in the black community, and recorded his first R&B hit, “Three O’Clock Blues,” in 1951.

He began to break through to white audiences, particularly young rock fans, in the 1960s with albums like “Live at the Regal,” which would later be declared a historic sound recording worthy of preservation by the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry.

He further expanded his audience with a 1968 appearance at the Newport Folk Festival and when he opened shows for the Rolling Stones in 1969.

King was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and received the Songwriters Hall of Fame Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush, gave a guitar to Pope John Paul II and had President Barack Obama sing along to his “Sweet Home Chicago.”

Other Grammys included best male rhythm ‘n’ blues performance in 1971 for “The Thrill Is Gone,” best ethnic or traditional recording in 1982 for “There Must Be a Better World Somewhere” and best traditional blues recording or album several times. His final Grammy came in 2009 for best blues album for “One Kind Favor.”

Through it all, King modestly insisted he was simply maintaining a tradition.

“I’m just one who carried the baton because it was started long before me,” he told the AP in 2008.

Born Riley B. King on Sept. 16, 1925, on a tenant farm near Itta Bena, Mississippi, King was raised by his grandmother after his parents separated and his mother died. He worked as a sharecropper for five years in Kilmichael, an even smaller town, until his father found him and took him back to Indianola.

“I was a regular hand when I was 7. I picked cotton. I drove tractors. Children grew up not thinking that this is what they must do. We thought this was the thing to do to help your family,” he said.

When the weather was bad and he couldn’t work in the cotton fields, he walked 10 miles to a one-room school before dropping out in the 10th grade.

After he broke through as a musician, it appeared King might never stop performing. When he wasn’t recording, he toured the world relentlessly, playing 342 one-nighters in 1956. In 1989, he spent 300 days on the road. After he turned 80, he vowed he would cut back, and he did, somewhat, to about 100 shows a year.

He had 15 biological and adopted children. Family members say 11 survive.

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Associated Press writers John Rogers and Mesfin Fekadu in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Cars

Lions Hold Car Show in Corte Madera

The Corte Madera Lions Electric Vehicle and Classic Car Show was held last Sunday, September 12, at the Village shopping center’s overflow parking lot next to Nordstrom’s. 

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From top, left to right: Chloe Nolasco selling the 2021 Electra Meccanica Solo, 1968 Shelby GT, 1972 Citroen 2cv, 1957 Rolls Royce, 1967 Morgan, 1993 Dodge Viper. Bottom photo from left: 1965 Shelby Cobra 427 S/C MKIII, 1959 Shelby Cobra, 1959 Chevy Corvette (Photos by Godfrey Lee)

The Corte Madera Lions Electric Vehicle and Classic Car Show was held last Sunday, September 12, at the Village shopping center’s overflow parking lot next to Nordstrom’s. 

The latest electric vehicles from Marin Luxury Cars — Mercedes, Mini, Ford, Electra Meccanica, and more than 75 pristine pre-1975 classic cars were featured at the show, including a fire truck and a farm tractor.

The event featured food from the The Pig in the Pickle, beer, wine, and live music from three local bands.

The Corte Madera Lions presented this community wide event. All proceeds will benefit local charities.

“The Marin Post’s coverage of local news in Marin County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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Black History

Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie: First Black Grammy’ Winners

Two Black performers left the event that night with Grammys in hand: Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917–1996) for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual; and William James “Count” Basie (1904–1984), for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, Group. Recognition for the pair was well overdue as their roads to the Grammy were storied.

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Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie, the first two African Americans to win Grammy awards, 1958. Photo courtesy of 9gag.com/gag/aQREN3K

It was the late spring of 1959. The music industry’s elite converged inside the Grand Ballroom of Los Angeles’ Beverly Hilton. Others were gathering at a function held simultaneously in New York City.

That night, the Grammy Award’s first show took place, and no one knew then that it would become a historic event for African-American performers.

Two Black performers left the event that night with Grammys in hand: Ella Jane Fitzgerald (1917–1996) for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best Jazz Performance, Individual; and William James “Count” Basie (1904–1984), for Best Performance by a Dance Band and Best Jazz Performance, Group. Recognition for the pair was well overdue as their roads to the Grammy were storied.

Fitzgerald was a teen when her mother died. Her aunt then took young Ella from her home in Yonkers, N.Y., back to Newport News, Va. Shortly after, Ella’s stepfather died. These events brought on depression. Ella began failing school and frequently skipped classes. After getting into trouble with the police, she was sent to a reform school. There she endured beatings by the caretakers. The brutality forced her to escape.

At age 15, she was alone and struggling to make a life for herself. But things would change when she was in New York City about five years later.

In 1934, young Ella performed at the Apollo’s Amateur Night. The crowd booed her; shouted “What’s she going to do?” A frightened Ella decided to sing. She asked the band to play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Judy,” one of her mother’s favorites. Her voice silenced the audience, and by the song’s end they begged for an encore.

Two years later, Ella made her first recording, “Love and Kisses,” under the Decca label. The rest was music history.
Later dubbed “The First Lady of Song,” Ella was the most popular female jazz singer in the United States for more than half a century. On June 15, 1996, she died in her Beverly Hills home. She’d taken home 14 Grammys throughout her career.

Basie, born in Red Bank, N.J., was one of the all-time great jazz band leaders. Dubbed the “King of Swing,” his career started in clubs and speakeasies in Asbury Park and Long Branch, N.J., then New York City (1924) and later Kansas City (1927).

His music served as inspiration for artists including John Lewis, Thelonious Monk, and Oscar Peterson. Along the way, he faced discrimination but overcame barriers to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century.

“Every day, we used to say, ‘Not one drop of my self-worth depends on your acceptance of me,’” musician and producer Quincy Jones said of the racism that he and Basie experienced back then. “It was horrible. It ain’t much better now.”

Basie wrote in a letter: “I can’t remember when I did not experience discrimination … And I didn’t let it bug me.”
The Count won nine Grammy awards over the course of his career. He died on April 26, 1984, in Hollywood, Fla.

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Community

Fillmore’s Great Jazz Era Featured in Book Talk, Concert at S.F. Botanical Gardens

Authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts will talk about their book, “Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era” at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park on Monday, September 20. 

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Sam Peoples Jr. in the Fillmore./ Photo Courtesy of Lewis Watts

Authors Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts will talk about their book, “Harlem of the West: The San Francisco Fillmore Jazz Era” at the San Francisco Botanical Gardens in Golden Gate Park on Monday, September 20.  It will be followed by a mini-concert by the Sam Peoples Trio. The event, co-sponsored by the garden, Bayview Opera House, and the San Francisco African American Historical & Cultural Society will run from 4:00-5:00 p.m. It is part of the garden’s critically acclaimed “Flower Piano” program, where 12 grand pianos are placed around the garden and musicians are invited to come and play them. 

Sam, whose father was a highly regarded, Fillmore-based musician in San Francisco back in the heyday of Harlem of the West, will be performing music that celebrates the great jazz and cultural heritage of the Fillmore District in San Francisco which is described Silva and Watts book.  

The fourth edition of the book, released by Heyday Books in 2020, will also be on sale at the garden. For more information, go to: https://www.sfbg.org/flowerpiano

The San Francisco Post’s coverage of local news in San Francisco County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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