King, B. B.,
1925–2015, African-American blues singer and guitarist, b. near Indianola, Miss., as Riley B. King. He grew up poor in the Mississippi Delta region, began playing the guitar at 12, was a street corner performer as a teenager, and as a young man worked as a singing, guitar-playing radio disk jockey in Memphis. King came to prominence as a blues guitarist in 1952 with his chart-topping recording of Three O'Clock Blues.
Known in the 1940s as the
Beale Street Blues Boy,
later simply as B. B., King, along with guitarists such as Muddy Waters
Walker, popularized electric blues music. Introducing the blues to pop audiences in the late 1960s and early 70s, in part with his most famous recording The Thrill Is Gone
(1969), King also greatly influenced a variety of white rock guitarists. His inability to play guitar and sing simultaneously led him to use the guitar to punctuate his songs, relying heavily on his left hand to achieve rich, textural tones with dramatic, almost vocal vibrato. Among the best known of his many albums are Live at the Regal
(1965), Live at Cook County Jail
(1971), and Riding with the King
(2000), recorded with Eric Clapton
. Playing his famous guitar,
he continued to record and tour into the 21st cent. King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and received the Presidential Medal of the Arts in 1990, Kennedy Center Honors in 1995, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006.
See his autobiography, Blues All around Me (1996, with D. Ritz).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Music: Popular and Jazz: Biographies