On September 16, 1925, Riley B. King was born on a cotton plantation outside tiny Berclair, Mississippi. In the 1940’s, on the radio in Memphis, Riley was dubbed Blues Boy. Riley became B.B. King, and B.B. King became a living legend, melding gospel, spirituals, big band music, jazz, rock and roll, and everything else into a singular style of the blues that is instantly recognizable once heard it. A voice wracked with pain, Lucille the guitar screaming in agony, a touring powerhouse that worked until he literally had to be taken off the stage, and a career that spans generations. The thrill is indeed gone. B.B. King has passed away at age 89. He passed in his Las Vegas mansion, the father of 15 children, and a millionaire many times over.
I got to see B.B. King perform several years ago at an outdoor Fourth of July event at one of the riverboat casinos nearby. B.B.’s band came out, played a little, then brought out the man himself, seated on a big chair in the middle of the stage. He was electric; if age had slowed his body, it added even more gravitas to the voice and the wail of the guitar. When the show was over, there was going to be a fireworks show. As the crew broke down the equipment and carted things off stage, B.B. stayed on the stage, talking to the folks in the front row, and watched the fireworks with the rest of us. A bunch of sweaty, sunburned nobodies and a living legend, watching sparkles in the sky.
I lost my uncle at the end of 2014; he was a big part of my life and he meant a lot to me, was my dad’s best friend, and generally loved me like I was one of his own children, if not more. He wasn’t the type of person to go out and buy CDs or DVDs or anything like that. The only CDs I remember him owning were a couple of BB King albums and the Clint Eastwood Man With No Name trilogy of westerns. When he died, BB King was played in the viewing room at the funeral home. Now, that stinging in my eyes and that tightness in my throat reminds me all over again that another piece of what made my uncle my uncle is gone, too.
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