BB King, blues guitar legend, dies aged 89

BLUES guitar legend BB King has died at the age of 89, it was ­revealed yesterday.

B.B King performs live in California, in 2003. The blues icon has died at the age of 89. Picture: Getty
B.B King performs live in California, in 2003. The blues icon has died at the age of 89. Picture: Getty

King, who had suffered from diabetes, died peacefully in his sleep at home in Las Vegas on Thursday, where he had been ­receiving hospice care, said his ­lawyer Brent Bryson.

The African American musician, whose best-known songs include The Thrill Has Gone, Sweet Little Angel and Rock Me Baby was born Riley King on a cotton plantation in Mississippi in 1925 in the heart of the American south.

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His reign as “King of the Blues” lasted more than six decades, straddling two centuries.

Asked about the blues, he said: “I’m trying to get people to see that we are our brother’s keeper. Red, white, black, brown or yellow, rich or poor, we all have the blues.”

King’s style of guitar playing and singing inspired scores of musicians, and he mentored stars including Eric Clapton as well as collaborating with U2 on the 1989 track When Love Comes To Town.

He moved from Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee, as a young man intent on a career in music, and worked as a disc jockey and musician before teaming up with long-time collaborator Bobby “Blue” Bland while honing his craft.

With his velvety voice and staccato guitar-picking style King is credited with bringing blues from the margins to mainstream audiences in the US and beyond.

His enduring legacy was refusing to slow down, maintaining a hectic touring schedule well into his 80s – even after being awarded honours such as the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and receiving the US Presidential Medal of Freedom.

He managed to attract new generations of fans by incorporating contemporary trends while remaining loyal to his Mississippi “Delta” blues roots.

King performed hundreds of shows a year but always set aside a few weeks to play back in Mississippi. He also found time to speak to his fans after concerts and his quiet charm led to him being called “The Chairman of the Board of Blues Singers.”

In tribute yesterday, former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr tweeted: “God bless BB King, peace and love to his family, Ringo and Barbara.”

King duetted with President Barack Obama at a gala blues concert in the White House and was the first blues musician to play in the Soviet Union. A 2008 documentary called BB King: The Life of Riley was narrated by Morgan Freeman.

He once said: “I guess the earliest sound of the blues that I can remember was in the fields while people would be pickin’ or choppin’ or something.”

Throughout his career, King evolved to incorporate contemporary trends and influences without straying from his roots. He also updated his Gibson electric blues guitar, but always called it Lucille.

In the early 1950s, King ran back into a blazing dance hall to rescue his $30 guitar after two men in a fight had knocked over a kerosene stove.

The men had been fighting over a woman called Lucille.