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Who is BB King?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

The American blues singer and guitarist known as BB King is legendary. Called The King of the Blues, BB King is known for his powerful music as well as for naming all of his guitars Lucille. His hits include "The Thrill is Gone," "Why I Sing the Blues," and "Woke Up This Morning."

BB King was born Riley B. King on 16 September, 1925 in the Mississippi Delta area of the United States. His father, Albert, was a sharecropping farmer as was his mother, Nora Ella. Riley B. was named after his uncle, but Albert called his son "BB" to mean baby brother because of the mere eighteen year age difference between them. When BB was four years old, his mother left his father and began living with another man. She sent BB to live nearby with his grandmother.

BB King has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
BB King has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Attending church with his grandmother and mother started BB's interest in music and he learned how to play guitar from the preacher. The young King enjoyed singing and playing guitar in church. As a teen, BB lived with his father for a few years after his mother and grandmother had died. Then he worked at mostly farming related jobs, finding work where he could. He lived with a white family, the Flake-Cartledges, for a while and they helped BB buy his first guitar.

BB King is a legendary guitar player.
BB King is a legendary guitar player.

BB formed a singing group with his cousin, Birkett, called The Famous Saint John's Gospel Singers. When the rest of the group was reluctant to pursue careers in music, BB King began singing and playing blues music as a solo performer. He became a huge success in his concert tours and recordings. BB King married twice and didn't have children from either marriage, but did father 15 children with different women out of wedlock. BB King won many awards including seven Grammy awards, Kennedy Center honors and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The reason for King naming all of his guitars, Lucille, dates back to the 1940s when he was playing concert gigs in dance halls. The halls were often heated with kerosene and one night, in a dance hall in Twist, Arkansas, two men started fighting, knocking over a barrel of lit kerosene. The result was terrible fire that killed two people. BB took a risk by going back in to save his guitar and when he found out that the men had been fighting over some woman named Lucille, he chose to name his guitars that to remind him to never risk his life like that again.

Discussion Comments


I had heard another version of how B.B. got his nickname -- the story goes like this.

In 1948, B.B. got his first break when he had the opportunity to perform on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program. It aired on KWEM in West Memphis. This led to B.B. having a ten-minute spot on WDIA. It became known as “King’s Spot”. It was so popular that it expanded and became the “Sepia Swing Club”. B.B. was becoming very popular and knew that he needed a catchy name.

He started out as “Beale Street Blues Boy”. That name was shortened to “Blues Boy King”. Then, from that, came “B.B. King”.

I guess there are lots of rumors about his name though -- does anybody know if B.B. himself ever said how he got his name?

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    • BB King has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
      By: Perseomedusa
      BB King has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
    • BB King is a legendary guitar player.
      By: Vitezslav Halamka
      BB King is a legendary guitar player.