Name at birth: Riley B. King
Widely known as the King of the Blues, guitarist B.B. King had a career that started in the 1940s and stretched well into the 21st century. He was known for his distinctive sound, especially his use of the sliding "bent" note, and for the electric Gibson guitar he named "Lucille." Riley King grew up sharecropping in Mississippi and learned to play gospel music on the guitar when he was a teenager. In the late 1940s he turned to playing blues and moved to Memphis, Tennessee to start a music career. (He originally called himself Beale Street Blues Boy, which he shortened to Blues Boy King and then B.B. King.) After becoming a popular local presence in clubs and on radio, he kicked off his recording career with "Three O'Clock Blues" (1951), which became a top hit on the R&B charts. King's early records in the '50s produced some R&B hits, but mainstream success eluded him. He and his band toured almost non-stop, performing hundreds of shows a year and building an audience. He finally had breakthrough success in the late 1960s, when white audiences began to discover rock's debt to the blues. Guitarists like Eric Clapton and Keith Richards sang his praises, and King began performing in rock and jazz clubs and had crossover hits like "Paying The Cost To Be The Boss" (1968) and "The Thrill Is Gone" (1970).
B.B. King recorded more than 50 albums, won 13 Grammys and received dozens of awards and honors over the years, and continued to perform four or five nights a week into his eighties. His albums include Live At The Regal (1965), Blues Is King (1967), Deuces Wild (1997) and Blues On The Bayou (1998). He was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2006. King announced in May of 2015 that he was receiving hospice care at his home in Las Vegas, and died a week later. King did not describe his illness, but he had been hospitalized with diabetes-related dehydration a month earlier. King was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the 1980s.
B.B. King opened a collection of blues clubs with branches in cities like Memphis, Los Angeles, Orlando and New York City… His 1996 autobiography was titled Blues All Around Me… B.B. King was married twice: to the former Martha Lee Denton (from 1946 to 1952) and to the former Sue Carol Hall (from 1958 to 1966). Both marriages ended in divorce. “By his own account he fathered 15 children with 15 women,” the New York Times reported in his obituary.