B.B. King, one of the legends of the Blues and arguably the man who did the most to popularize it with a diverse worldwide audience, has died at the age of 89. Sometimes overlooked by Blues “purists”, King was nevertheless an authentic Mississippi Delta original, albeit a performer who incorporated external influences such as Big Band Jazz and R&B in creating a signature sound with broad popular appeal. A tireless, good humored performer forever on the road playing one-night stands first to all-black audiences then to all comers, B.B. King’s very endurance insured that he would be able to capitalize on the big Blues revival of the 1960s. Sure enough, his biggest hit, the seminal “The Thrill Is Gone”, came in 1969, over 20 years after he had left a life of sharecropping and poverty on the Delta for the lucrative rewards of DJing and performing in Memphis, Tennessee.
While not name-checked as frequently as some other Blues guitar legends, King’s expressive playing style was nonetheless influential on generations of musicians. He made his big, curved Gibsons, always named Lucille, sing and cry with restrained, elegant power. His wonderfully well-modulated yet still raw singing style was indelibly unique — when you heard him sing an opening verse you knew right away just who was doing the singing. And by dint of his longevity, his many skills as a performer and showman and his pure enthusiastic passion for playing B. B. King came to embody “The Blues” for generations of listeners.