Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men – Proverbs 22:29 NASB
Legendary Blues musician B. B. King passed away peacefully in his Las Vegas home last week at the age of 89 due to diabetes complications. Known as “The King Of The Blues,” Mr. King became a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Although he did not complete high school, B.B. King received Honorary Doctorates from Yale University and Berkley College of Music, among others, and was the recipient of many international awards and honors, including 15 Grammys, the National Medal of the Arts, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Affectionately nicknamed “Church Boy” or “B.B.” (short for “Blues Boy”), Mr. King was born Riley B. King near Indianola, Mississippi in 1925, the son of Albert and Nora Ella King, both sharecroppers. He began his life on a plantation, and worked alongside his parents picking cotton as a child. It was working in the fields where he first heard the blues sung by other workers, and the music was also played and sung in the homes of various family members.
He began singing spirituals and gospel with the choir of Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Church, but the Baptists’ musical tastes were more staid and traditional than the young King preferred.
“If you were in the Baptist church, they didn’t want you to bring a guitar in,” he said in an interview with the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1999.
His mother had a profound influence on him spiritually.
“My mother had filled my heart with a love for a compassionate God. Gospel songs sang of that love. And, God knows, I loved singing gospel,” said King.
At the age of 9, after the death of his mother, young Riley went to live with his grandmother, where he was introduced to the Pentecostal worship style of the Church of God In Christ. The denomination has been known and continues to be known for an exuberant, musical expression of praise and worship deeply rooted in African tradition, and COGIC has widely influenced the gospel music genre from its inception.
My mother had filled my heart with a love for a compassionate God. Gospel songs sang of that love – B.B. King
The Rev. Archie Fair, who was also a distant relative of King’s, led services at the Austin Chapel Sanctified Church – a local COGIC church – singing while playing his Silvertone guitar.
“Church was not only a warm spiritual experience, it was exciting entertainment…it was where the music got all over my body and made me wanna jump”.
It was Reverend Fair who first taught King to play the guitar, the catalyst which ignited B.B. King’s passion for music and gave birth to his nearly 70-year career. He, with the Gibson guitar he affectionately called ‘Lucille,’ became one of the most influential blues musicians and guitarists of all time, inspiring musicians of diverse genres and cultures worldwide.
Memorial services are scheduled to take place in both Las Vegas and Indianola. It was Mr. King’s wish, according to his attorney, that his funeral service and burial be at a small Indianola church near the site where he picked cotton as a boy. The funeral is scheduled for the week after the memorial service. His body will be buried at the museum which bears his name.
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DID YOU KNOW?
- B.B. King’s Mother wanted him to grow up to be a preacher.
- The Blues is a fusion of traditional African and European folk music, and, along with Jazz and Gospel, is considered to be one of the true forms of original American music.
- Blues, Jazz, Gospel and Negro Spirituals all share the same 12-chord structure.
- The Blues as a musical genre is not about sadness, but, according to B.B. King and others, about endurance, resilience and hope.
FOOTNOTES & REFERENCES
1 , 2015
2 Lesley, Alison: “How B.B. King’s Religion Influenced His Music”. World religion News, May 18, 2105.
Photo, courtesy Townsend Center for the Humanities, University of California, Berkeley.