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B. B. King

B. B. KingAKA Riley B. King

Born: 16-Sep-1925
Birthplace: Itta Bena, MS

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: Black
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Musician

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: King of the Blues

Riley King was born into the difficult life of a sharecropping farm in the segregated South, made even more difficult first by the separation of his parents when he was four, and then by death of his mother he he was nine. Five years later his grandmother also died, leaving him to attempt to support himself for a year as a cotton farmer; when this failed, he lived for two years with his father before once again setting out on his own. King received his first exposure to music singing at his mother's church, and it was here that he was taught the rudiments of the guitar and formed his first gospel group with his cousin Birkett. In 1943 the two moved to the Delta town of Indianola and established a five-man ensemble called The Famous St. John's Gospel Singers.

After realizing that his group did not share his motivation, King set out on his own to Memphis in 1946 in the hopes of establishing a music career. Once there, he moved in with his cousin Bukka White and began privately honing his skills as a blues guitarist. A return to Indianola was made the following year to pay off his debts, but by the end of 1948 he was back in Memphis performing on the newly-created all-black radio station WDIA. It was at this time that Riley became Beale Street Blues Boy, gradually shortened to just Blues Boy and then B. B. These radio appearances led to his first recording sessions, made with the Bullet Recording and Transcription Company in 1949, and later to a 10-year contract with Modern Records.

King's breakthrough arrived in 1951 with the single Three O'Clock Blues, which climbed to number one on the R&B charts and finally earned him national recognition. This success was repeated in 1952 with the next single Woke Up This Morning -- a song inspired by the news that his wife was seeking a divorce. That year King set out on his first national tour, initiating a life of ceaseless touring that has yet to come to an end. A switch to ABC records was made in 1960 with the hopes of emulating the crossover success of some of his contemporaries -- as the musical segregation in effect at the time was still keeping his records out of the mainstream, and white awareness of the blues had not yet reached the level that had been achieved by soul and early rock musicians. This circumstance began to be remedied in 1965 by the sudden popularity of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, a white band that openly professed the influence of King on their playing. A performance at the Fillmore West and a song recorded in response to his second divorce, The Thrill Is Gone -- followed by appearances on The Tonight Show in 1969 and The Ed Sullivan Show in 1971 -- eventually delivered him the mainstream audience he had been seeking.

B. B. King has remained a fixture on the music scene ever since, continuing his endless schedule of touring in addition to making extensive television and film appearances. Several high-profile collaborations have served to maintain his exposure over the years, including a performance in U2's 1988 concert film Rattle and Hum and an album recorded with Eric Clapton in 2000.

Father: Albert King (sharecropping farmer)
Mother: Nora Ella King (d. 1935)
Wife: Martha Lee Denton (m. 1944, div. 1952)
Wife: Sue Carol Hall (m. 1958, div. 1966)

    Academy of Achievement (2004)
    Grammy Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male (1970)
    Grammy Best Ethnic Or Traditional Recording (1981)
    Grammy Best Traditional Blues Recording (1983)
    Grammy Best Traditional Blues Recording (1985)
    Grammy Best Traditional Blues Recording (1990)
    Grammy Best Traditional Blues Album (1991)
    Grammy Best Traditional Blues Album (1993)
    Grammy Best Rock Instrumental Performance (1996)
    Grammy Best Traditional Blues Album (1999)
    Grammy Best Traditional Blues Album (2000)
    Grammy Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals (2000)
    Grammy Best Traditional Blues Album (2002)
    Grammy Best Pop Instrumental Performance (2002)
    Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1987
    National Medal of Arts 1990
    Kennedy Center Honor 1995
    Library of Congress Living Legend 2000
    Draft Deferment: World War II
    Traveled to the USSR
    Risk Factors: Diabetes, Vegetarian, Obesity

    FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
    Lightning in a Bottle (12-Feb-2004) · Himself
    Blues Brothers 2000 (6-Feb-1998) · Malvern Gasperon
    When We Were Kings (25-Oct-1996) · Himself
    Heart and Souls (13-Aug-1993) · Himself
    U2: Rattle and Hum (27-Oct-1988) · Himself
    Amazon Women on the Moon (18-Sep-1987) · Himself
    Spies Like Us (6-Dec-1985)
    Live Aid (13-Jul-1985) · Himself
    Sing Sing Thanksgiving (Apr-1974) · Himself
    Medicine Ball Caravan (25-Aug-1971) · Himself
    Dynamite Chicken (20-Jan-1971) · Himself

Author of books:
Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B. B. King (1996, memoir)


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