Mississippi has the reputation of being last in almost everything. Mississippi definitely contains its flaws, and everyone frequently reminds our state of them. However, Mississippi has had a profound impact on music and can claim several important musicians. Mississippi can not only claim the King of Rock and Roll but the King of Blues as well. B.B. King was born in Mississippi, and during his long career, he influenced blues music like no other. His influence can still be felt in blues today. Since blues is a part of Mississippi culture, Union should know about one of the most influential figures in the genre’s history.
On September 16, 1925, Riley B. King entered the world at the Berclair cotton plantation in Itta Bena. His family sharecropped for a living, and after his mother left his father when King was four years old, he moved in with his grandmother in Kilmichael. His first experience with music came in the form of church music. He sang in the choir and learned a few chords from the preacher at the church. He kept teaching himself guitar throughout the next several years. Because of this background, King started out playing guitar with a famous gospel group after becoming inspired by the radio show “King Biscuit Time.” He toured around the Mississippi Delta with this group for a few years. Eventually, he became a part of the Beale Street blues scene in Memphis during the 1940s and earned the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy.” This nicknamed eventually evolved into his famous “B.B.” initials; this nickname would eventually come to represent the entire genre of blues.
During the 1940s and 1950s, B.B. King rose to prominence in blues music by starting his own solo career and writing several of his biggest hits. When starting out in blues, B.B. King first performed with the Beale Streeters, but he soon began his solo career by recording singles and forming his own band. He earned a recording contract and began touring across the United States. He obtained Lucille, his signature guitar, during this time as well. As his career took off, he began writing and performing some of his most famous songs. Some of these include “You Know I Love You,” “Every Day I Have the Blues,” and “Sweet Little Angel” among many others. His career continued to ascend to greater heights throughout the rest of the 1950s and 1960s; unlike other musicians of that day, B.B. King did not fade into the background during the late 1960s and 1970s. King and his music actually began to reach a wider audience as the blues-rock style of that era allowed blues a to be more readily accessible to white audiences. This also put King increasingly in front of rock and pop audiences as well, and his rendition of “The Thrill Is Gone” remains one of the most popular songs in music history. King was inducted to both the Blues Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He even won the international Polar Music Prize as well; his new style of soloing had revolutionized blues music on an electric guitar. From the 1980s until his death in 2015, B.B. King toured and performed to his heart’s content.
Although many people may claim that Mississippi is unimportant, B.B. King serves as proof that this is extremely far from the truth. Music touches everyone; even infants can listen and enjoy music. B.B. King influenced an entire genre of music and was known on a global scale. This is something Mississippi (and by extension Union) should be proud of. Mississippi’s musically heritage is second to none, and even though B.B. King has passed from this Earth, his music preserves him for future generations.