Riley “B.B.” King

blues musician, Memphis
National Heritage Fellowship (1991)

Although he was born in the Mississippi Delta and lived in Las Vegas when awarded the National Heritage Fellowship, B.B. King (1925 – 2015) first gained blues celebrity during the many years he spent in Memphis. He moved to the city in 1947, and his nickname evolved out of his early monicker as the “Beale Street Blues Boy.” He gained experience as a disc jockey on the famous black radio station WDIA, closely studied guitar and singing styles in the burgeoning rhythm & blues field, and made his first recordings in 1949. To promote his records, he toured extensively, at first mostly to African American club venues. By the late 1960s, he was the leading figure in popularizing blues among white rock ‘n roll audiences and continued a heavy touring schedule into his eighties that embraced blues package tours for black urban audiences and international performances. A memorable stylist both on guitar and as a singer, King influenced scores of successors and brought world-wide attention to the blues.

More Information

  • Govenar, Alan, Masters of Traditional Arts: A Biographical Dictionary (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2001), pp. 349-51, 721.
  • Keil, Charles, Urban Blues (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968), pp. 66-68.
  • King, B.B., with David Ritz, Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King (NY: Avon Books, 1996).
  • Kostelanetz, Richard, and Anson John Pope, ed., The B.B. King Companion: Five Decades of Commentary ( NY: Schirmer Books, 1997).