Born as Riley B. King in 1925, King was always into music. Growing up in Mississippi, he sang in his church choir while during the same time his local minister taught him how to play 3 chords which would later encourage him to want a guitar for himself. In the 1940s, B.B. would listen to the radio learning how to play the songs he heard by ear. As the years grew, he would later want to be a part of what he heard and become a radio musician. That dream would come true in late 1946 when he started to work for WDIA as a singer and disc jockey, where he was given the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy” which would later be shortened down to “Blues Boy” and finally to “B.B.”.
As B.B. began to get recognized, he would start recording songs with producer Sam Phillips who later founded Sun Records in 1949 during the same year his infamous guitar, Lucille, was born. As King was playing a show in Arkansas, the building was caught on fire from two guys starting a fight. As the entire crowd ran out of the club, King rushed back to grab his guitar. As he was getting it to go back outside, he overheard a couple fighting over a woman named Lucille. So from then on, he named his guitar after Lucille to remind him to never fight over a woman. Three years after recording his first record and his near-death experience, King would receive his first number one hit on the Billboard R&B charts with ‘3 O’Clock Blues’ in February of 1952. Soon after that he would pile up the list of hits that would include; ‘Whole Lotta Love’, ‘Everyday I Have The Blues’, ‘Sweet Little Angel’ and many more. As he started to get fame for the way he played his guitar, King would start to earn the weekly earnings of $800 to $2,500 ($7,600 to $23,000 in today’s dollars).
Since the beginning of his career, B.B. has been recognized as The King of Blues along with not only being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 but also the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. King is also recognized as one of the Three Kings of the Blues guitar following Albert and Freddie King (no relation between all three of them). From the start until his death at the age of 89, King would maintain a highly visible and active career performing over 300 shows in a single year. Riley B. King will forever be The King of Blues from his line of Blues Clubs over the United States including; Memphis, Nashville and New York. Thank you for teaching all of us about the roots of the blues and giving all of us including today’s musician’s inspiration.