Riley B. King, the legendary guitarist known as B.B. King, whose velvety voice and staccato-picking style brought blues from the margins to the mainstream, died Thursday night.
He was 89.
His daughter, Patty King, said he died in Las Vegas, where he announced two weeks ago that he was in home hospice care after suffering from dehydration.
The Mississippi native’s reign as “king of the blues” lasted more than six decades and straddled two centuries, influencing a generation of rock and blues musicians, from Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to Sheryl Crow and John Mayer.
Musicians mourn the loss of B.B. King
His life was the subject of the documentary “B.B. King: The Life of Riley,” and the inspiration for the The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, which opened in 2008.
King’s enduring legacy came from his refusal to slow down even after cementing his status as an American music icon.
Even with a long list of honors to his name — Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Presidential Medal of Freedom — he maintained a relentless touring schedule well into his 80s.
Throughout his career, King evolved with the times to incorporate contemporary trends and influences without straying from his Delta blues roots. Whether he was sharing the stage with U2 on “When Loves Comes to Town” — a scene memorialized in the 1988 concert film, “Rattle and Hum” — or playing in the East Room of the White House with Buddy Guy, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck and others, King’s single-string guitar notes trilled with an unmistakable vibrato from his hollow-bodied Gibson affectionately known as Lucille.
It was during this era that King first named his beloved guitar Lucille. In the mid-1950s, King was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas, when a few fans became unruly and started a fire. King ran out, forgetting his guitar, and risked his life to go back and get it. He later found out that two men fighting over a woman named Lucille knocked over a kerosene heater that started the fire. He named the guitar Lucille, “to remind myself never to do anything that foolish.”
King has used various models of Gibson guitars over the years and named them each Lucille. In the 1980s, Gibson officially dropped the model number ES-355 on the guitar King used and it became a custom-made signature model named Lucille, manufactured exclusively for the “King of the Blues.”
30 Grammy nominations
In 1970, he won his first Grammy, for Best R&B Vocal Performance Male for his trademark song, “The Thrill is Gone.” That same year, he debuted an all-blues show at Carnegie Hall and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Over the years, he racked up 30 Grammy nominations and 15 wins, including two in 2000: one along with Eric Clapton for Best Traditional Blues Album for “Riding with the King,” and another with Dr. John for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “Is You Is, or Is You Ain’t (My Baby).”
His last was in February 2009 for Best Traditional Blues Album for “One Kind Favor” (2008).
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