Blue Star Museums Blog (Archive)

Blues, Heritage & B.B. King

Today, the NEA announced the 2013 NEA National Heritage Fellows, honoring those who have made significant contributions in the folk and traditional arts. Congratulations to our new class of honorees!

Our new Fellows are joining a prestigious group, whose members include blues legend and 1991 NEA Heritage Fellow Riley “B.B.” King. Coincidentally, the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi, is participating in the Blue Star Museums program this year. Featuring a state-of-the-art multimedia exhibition, visitors can explore the life of B.B. King, from field worker in the Mississippi Delta, to celebrated blues musician. While a trip to the museum might be the best way to truly understand this incredible artist, we’ve compiled some interesting facts for you about his life.

    • Many know that the legendary musician’s given name is Riley B. King. So how did he come to be known as "B.B"? When he became a disc jockey in 1948, he began going by the name Beale Street Blues Boy, which eventually evolved into Blues Boy King, which was later shortened to B.B. King.
    • B.B. King made guest appearances in numerous popular television shows, including sitcoms like The Cosby Show, and even the famous soap opera, The Young and the Restless.
    • The first B.B. King song to reach number one on the Billboard R&B charts was “Three O’Clock Blues,” released in 1951 and recorded in a downtown Memphis YMCA using portable recording equipment.
    • The “King of Blues” is also a King of the Sky. B.B. King is a licensed private pilot and learned to fly at Illinois's Lansing Municipal Airport in 1963.
    • King became an avid spokesperson in the fight against diabetes after he was diagnosed with the disease over 20 years ago.
    • His first big break came when he played live on KWEM radio station in West Memphis, Arkansas---the same station that helped promote Elvis and Johnny Cash early in their careers. The station was flooded with phone calls, and King was given a ten-minute spot on Memphis’s WDIA station. He was eventually given his own radio show, which was called, Sepia Swing Club.
    • B.B. King names every guitar he plays “Lucille.” The story behind the name dates back to a show he played in 1949 in Twist, Arkansas. During the set, a fight broke out between two young men over a lady. In the midst of the brawl, a kerosene lamp was knocked over, setting the venue ablaze. The crowd evacuated, and King ran out as well. However, once outside he realized that his guitars were left on stage.  Being that they provided his only source of income, King risked his life to run back in and save his guitars. As everyone watched the building go up in flames, he learned that the woman the fight had been about was named Lucille. Since then, King has named over 100 guitars “Lucille,” and the Gibson Guitar Corporation even released a custom model of the same name.

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