Reuters –Blues legend B.B. King, who took his music from rural juke joints to the mainstream and inspired a generation of guitarists from Eric Clapton to Stevie Ray Vaughan, has died aged 89.
King, who will for ever be associated with the trademark black Gibson guitars he christened Lucille, died in Las Vegas, the newspaper quoted his attorney as saying.
News of his death, confirmed on a Facebook page linked to the website of King’s daughter Claudette, triggered shockwaves across social media, with stars from the music world lining up to pay tribute.
King was hospitalized in April for a few days after suffering from dehydration related to Type 2 diabetes. In May he said in a Facebook post that he was in hospice care at his home.
Born on a plantation to sharecropper parents, King outlived all his fellow post-World War Two blues greats –Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker – to see the rough music born in the cotton fields of the segregated South reach a new audience.
“Being a blues singer is like being black twice,” King wrote in his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me,” of the lack of respect the music got compared with rock and jazz.
“While the civil rights movement was fighting for the respect of black people, I felt I was fighting for the respect of the blues.”
In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time ranked King at No. 3, behind only Hendrix and Duane Allman.
Rocker Bryan Adams said on Twitter King was “one of the best blues guitarists ever, maybe the best. He could do more on one note than anyone”
In a similar vein, Lenny Kravitz tweeted: “BB, anyone could play a thousand notes and never say what you said in one.”
Rapper Snoop Dogg, Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, former Beatle Ringo Starr and U.S. country singer Brad Paisley were among others who posted tributes.
Born Riley B. King on September16, 1925 in Itta Bena, Mississippi, he began learning guitar as a boy and sang in church choirs.
After World War Two Army service, King sang on street corners to pick up money. In 1947 he hitchhiked to Memphis, Tennessee, where he learned from and played with his cousin, revered blues guitarist Bukka White.
King went from touring black bars and dance halls in the 1940s and ’50s to headlining an all-blues show at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1970 and recording with the likes of Clapton and U2 in the ’90s.
He had a deep, resonant singing voice and, despite having what he called “stupid fingers,” an immediately recognizable guitar sound.
His unique style of trilling the strings with a fluttering left-hand vibrato, which he called it “the butterfly,” delivered stinging single-note licks that brimmed with emotion and helped shape early rock.
King became a star on the rhythm and blues charts with “3 O’Clock Blues,” “Please Love Me,” “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “Sweet Little Angel.” At his peak he was on stage 300 nights a year and playing to audiences all over the world – including the former Soviet Union and China. He still toured regularly into his eighties, although his show had been scaled back.
He won 15 Grammys, starting in 1970 for the crossover pop hit “The Thrill Is Gone,” making him the biggest Grammy winner in the blues genre, according to the Recording Academy. In 1987, he received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award.
King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, awarded the National Medal for the Arts in 1990 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1995.