King, B. B.

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

King, B. B.

B. B. King, 1925–, African-American blues singer and guitarist, b. near Indianola, Miss., as Riley B. King. He grew up poor in the Mississippi Delta region, began playing the guitar at 12, was a street corner performer as a teenager, and as a young man worked as a singing, guitar-playing radio disk jockey in Memphis. King came to prominence as a blues guitarist in 1952 with his chart-topping recording of Three O'clock Blues. Known as the "Beale Street Blues Boy," later simply B. B., King, along with guitarists such as Muddy Waters and "T-Bone" Walker, popularized electric blues music. Introducing the blues to pop audiences in the late 1960s and early 70s, King also greatly influenced a variety of white rock guitarists. His inability to play guitar and sing simultaneously led him to use the guitar to punctuate his songs, relying heavily on his left hand to achieve rich, textural tones with dramatic, almost vocal vibrato. Among the best known of his many albums are Live at the Regal (1965), Live at Cook County Jail (1971), and Riding with the King (2000), recorded with Eric Clapton. Playing his famous guitar, "Lucille," he has continued to record and tour into the 21st cent. King has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and received the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 1990 and Kennedy Center Honors in 1995.

See his autobiography, Blues All around Me (1996).

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