B.B. King, the most recognized blues musician of the modern era, who defined the genre for nearly seven decades and inspired countless artists with his unique style of electric guitar play – earning him the nickname the “King of Blues” – died Thursday. He was 89.
King died in his sleep at 9:40 p.m. Thursday at his Las Vegas home, his attorney, Brent Bryson, told The Associated Press.
King announced on May 1 that he entered home hospice care at his Las Vegas residence, ending his legacy as a relentless touring artist. He performed at hundreds of shows a year well into his older age, always with his trademark Gibson guitar nicknamed “Lucille.”
King, an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won 15 Grammy awards over his lifetime – more than any other blues musician. His “string-bending and vibrato” technique on the guitar earned him spots on several lists of the instrument’s greatest players of all time.
King was born Riley B. King in 1925 and as a boy worked on a sharecropping plantation in Itta Benna, Mississippi. “He toiled in cotton and corn fields, milked 20 cows a day (ten in the morning, ten at night) on Flake Cartledge’s farm. After those morning milkings, he walked some three miles to the one-room schoolhouse that was home to kindergarten through grade 12,” David McGee wrote in the biography B. B. King: There Is Always One More Time.
Growing up, King had several experiences with violence and racism. At one point, he said in a 2013 interview, he saw a young man “being drug up the streets over to the courthouse” in Lexington, Mississippi, where the man was lynched.