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The Real King

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Riley B. "B.B." King

(guitarist/singer, born September 16, 1925, Itta Bena, MS)

The most touching bluesman of our time, and the most influential electric guitarist ever, the "King of the

Blues" sums up his message with some simple advice. "I would say to all people, but maybe to young

people especially--black and white or whatever color--follow your own feelings and trust them, find out

what you want to do and do it, and then practice it every day of your life and keep becoming what you are,

despite any hardships and obstacles you meet."

So hard to follow yet so good to live by, those words also describe the course of the musician's

extraordinary career. The obstacles in his path were many: He was born during the Great Depression in the

poorest of American states, the son of black farm laborers. Only talent, hard work, and an unstoppable

artistic vision can account for King's journey out of the Mississippi Delta, through the roadhouse joints of

the "Chitlin' Circuit" in the South to the legendary Apollo Theater in New York, into the recording studio, to

the hearts of millions. Praising his "apparently inexhaustible reserve of creativity," as he presented B.B. King

with the National Medal of Arts in 1990, President George Bush hailed the blues musician as a "trailblazer,

an authentic pioneer who literally helped shape his art form."

Riley B. King (the extra "B" came later and doesn't stand for anything) spent his childhood all over the

state of Mississippi. When his parents separated in 1929, the boy went to live with his maternal

grandmother in Kilmichael; his mother died when he was nine and, in 1940, B.B. joined his father's new

family in Lexington for two years before returning to Kilmichael. He took on farm work in Indianola in

1946 but, after wrecking a tractor, decided his future lay in Memphis, Tennessee. A fan of the bluesman

Bukka White, young B.B. looked him up for advice and found himself working as a street corner bluesman

in Memphis. In 1948 he worked up the nerve to audition for WDIA, a hillbilly radio station that was about

to change its format to cater to the black community. He got the job.

He cut his first record in 1949, "Miss Martha King," followed by "Three O'Clock Blues" and "She's

Dynamite" in 1951. Both reached Number One in Memphis. By 1955, King decided to put together his




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