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Blues Music Great B.B. King Dead at 89

B.B. King performing in Los Angeles, California in 2011. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)

B.B. King performing in Los Angeles, California in 2011. (Photo by Paul A. Hebert/Invision/AP)

A great master of blues guitar, B.B. King, is dead. King died Thursday night at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was 89 years old.

B.B. King was in the music business for almost 70 years. He influenced generations of musicians during his career.

His millions of fans around the world recognize his singular sound immediately. The so-called King of Blues never seemed to lose the thrill of performing. He spent most of each year traveling and playing his music for audiences all over the world.

"I've always felt that to be an entertainer, you've got to entertain. So I've tried to pull all my energies together if I'm singing, to put it all right there. I'm trying to remember that the people that come to see me are fans that are expecting the best that I have."

Wherever B.B. King traveled, at least one of his black Gibson guitars came along. He named each "Lucille." He told fans he first named his guitar after a performance at a club in Arkansas. He said two men began to fight and started a fire in the process.

"And everybody started to run for the front door, including B.B. King. But when I got on the outside, then I realized I'd left my guitar. And in '49, believe me, keeping a good guitar was a hard job."

He went back into the burning building. He said it was collapsing around him. He got his guitar but almost lost his life, he said.

Later, King discovered the two men in the club had been fighting over a woman named Lucille.

Riley B. King was born on a farm in Mississippi on September 16, 1925. As a boy, he sang with gospel groups. But by the age of 16, he was performing on the street, singing and playing guitar. He found that blues music was more profitable than gospel.

The name B.B. is short for "Blues Boy," the name he used at work as a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee.

B.B. King made his first record in 1949, at the age of 24. Three years later, his recording of Lowell Fulsom's "Three O'Clock Blues" became a number one R&B hit.

B.B. King’s only pop hit was "The Thrill Is Gone," from 1969. But the musician had a huge influence on many rock and rollers, including Britons Eric Clapton and George Harrison and the Irish band U2.

B.B. King won 15 Grammy awards. He was named to the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, as well as the Rock and Roll and R&B halls of fame. He was awarded honorary doctorates from several universities and was honored by presidents.

B.B. King is gone, but the thrill of his music remains.

I'm Caty Weaver.

Correspondents Susan Logue and Eric Felten reported this story from Washington. Caty Weaver wrote it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

fan n. a person who likes and admires someone (such as a famous person) or something (such as a sport or a sports team) in a very enthusiastic way

thrill n. a feeling of great excitement or happiness

audience n. a group of people who gather together to listen to something or watch something: the people who attend a performance

gospel n. a type of Christian music that was created by African-Americans in the southern United States

disc jockey n. a person who plays recorded music on the radio or at a party or nightclub

Do you like the blues? Who is your favorite blues artist? Tell us in the comments section!

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