B. B. King
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King, B. B.
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 and “T-Bone” 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, “Lucille,” 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).
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King, (Riley B.) B. B.(1925– ) musician; born in Itta Bena, Miss. A singer and guitarist born into a sharecropping family, he became one of the best-known blues performers, an important consolidator of blues styles, and a primary model for rock guitarists. Following U.S. Army service, he began his career as a disc jockey in Memphis, Tenn., where he was dubbed "The Beale Street Blues Boy," soon shortened to B. B. He made his first recording in 1949. The following year he began a 12-year-long association with Kent/RPM/Modern, for which he recorded a string of rhythm and blues hits. He also toured the nightclub circuit continuously, averaging over 300 shows annually for nearly 30 years. In 1962, he signed with ABC Records, which released Live at the Regal, a benchmark blues concert album. In 1969, he released his biggest hit single, "The Thrill is Gone." In 1979, he became the first bluesman to tour the U.S.S.R. By this time he had also become the first bluesman to enter the pop mainstream, making regular appearances in Las Vegas, Nev., and on network television. In 1987, he was inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.