A Life In The Blues: Blues Giant BB King Passes At Age 89
There are few players, if any, whose voice, face, hands and body have lived as much or contributed as much to the American music tradition as one BB King. Last night, Thursday May 14th, BB "Blues Boy" King died, peacefully, in his sleep, passing on at the seasoned age of 89 and leaving behind a heroic legacy of pivotal innovations and cherished musical memories; moments that are so near and dear to the body of American popular music that they will live longer than any human body could.
As a guitarist, BB and his mythical six-string, Lucille, were amongst a very select few to add a genuinely new set of tricks to the communal bag from which every player pulls, commanding either a smile or a tear with every note, saying more with each one than most have in a lifetime. As a vocalist, King laid the foundation for r&b's squall. His voice was a thing of gutteral majesty that could cut through to the most tender corner of a listener's heart, testament to the fact that--unlike many bluesmen--BB's voice contained within it a power and soaring melody on par with the greats of soul and gospel. Yet the full force of his prodigious lung-power and angelic phrasing were unleashed only rarely, punching through like an emotional spotlight when his songs demanded.
And then there are his songs. The hits were innumerable. Whether you consider the influence of his early recordings or mark his very first Grammy win (1970, for his version of "The Thrill Is Gone") as the beginning of the well-earned, overdue crown upon a dynastic musical entity, BB's catalogue is one that spans roughly 70 years, comprising 20 charting hits and countless lives touched, including--it is worth mentioning, in this year especially--those of the forgotten and incarcerated bodies that he's brought light and hope to in their most trying times. It would be more accurate perhaps to say King has had at least 3 successful careers by most measures and his mid-career albums of the late '60s and early '70s--such as BB King In London--still stand as remarkable testaments to the versatility, virtuosity and depth of an artform too often treated like a redheaded stepchild by scholars of more pedigreed musical styles.
He was perhaps, American music's everyman par excellence--yet carried himself with a dignity every bit as kingly as his name suggests, providing what is likely the bluesman's handbook in his Live At The Regal performance, sharing stages with James Brown in Zaire, coaching a full-bloom Jimi Hendrix in his prime and championing the blues until the very day he died. And today, May 15th of 2015, we remember the life of that man; a true king in his time. Rest in peace, BB.