B.B. King, the undisputed “King of Blues,” died Thursday in Las Vegas at the age of 89, according to his attorney.
King, who was in declining health due to diabetes, recently entered hospice care before passing away in his sleep, according to his website.
The singer-guitarist began his music career in the 1940s, first making a name for himself in the South – most notably Memphis, a cultural hotspot that was home to the many sounds and styles of music created by influential African-American musicians of the era. And right by his side was his beloved Gibson guitar, Lucille.
In the mid-1950s, King decided it was time to branch out, so he began to tour nationally on the “chitlin circuit” – a collection of intimate Southern venues such as small cafes, juke joints and dance halls – before eventually expanding to much larger concert halls and amphitheaters.
It was during this time he began to develop and hone his trademark guitar style – precise string picking with an instantly recognizable vibrato – and paired it with his heartfelt lyrics, ultimately producing the sound that would propel him to the forefront of blues.
Then, in the mid-1980s, King’s musical influence was fully recognized, as he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1984 and then the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Over the course of his storied career, King was prolific in his production, releasing more than fifty albums with standout hits like “The Thrill is Gone,” “Paying the Cost to be the Boss,” “Three O’Clock Blues,” ” You Don’t Know Me” and “Why I Sing the Blues” – all of which continue to resonate with blues fans today. King also set (and still holds) the record for most Grammy wins in the blues category with 15 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the academy in 1987.
King had a memorable career, to say the least, and his love for music took him from a plantation in rural Mississippi to grand stages in distant cities across the world.