Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: B. B. King (1925–) from African American Almanac
Singer, Guitarist, Bandleader

Riley B. King was born on September 16, 1925, in Indianola, Mississippi. His career started when, as a boy of fourteen, he met a preacher who played the guitar. King soon owned his own guitar; he bought it for $8, paid out of meager wages from working in the cotton fields. From that time on, King spent his spare time singing and playing the guitar with other budding musicians in the town and listening to blues guitarists who came to Indianola clubs. In the early 1940s he traveled to a nearby town to play on street corners. Sometimes he'd come home with as much as $25.

After World War II, King hitchhiked to Memphis where a musician-relative got him a performing job at the 16th Street Grill. He was paid $12 a night, plus room and board, five nights a week. King then found a spot on a newly opened radio station in Memphis called WDIA. He played ten minutes each afternoon and then became a disc jockey. The station named him “The Boy from Beale Street,” and thereafter Riley B. King was known as “B. B.”

King's first record was made in 1949 for RPM, and in 1951 he released “Three O'Clock Blues,” which was a number-one record on the rhythm and blues charts. While promoting his record in Twist, Arkansas, King was inspired to name his guitar after a woman who caused a fight between two men and a fire that almost cost him his life. The guitar came to be known as Lucille. King continued his successes and released “The Thrill Is Gone” in 1969, which earned him a Grammy in 1971. A series of personal appearances on major television shows increased his popularity. King toured Europe for the first time in 1969, starting at the Royal Albert Hall in London and continuing through England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and Sweden. Returning to the United States, he joined a four-teen-city tour with the Rolling Stones. Twenty years later, he toured with the Stones again.

By the 1980s King had reached legend status as he continued to perform. He won a Grammy for his blues recording Blues ‘n’ Jazz in 1984, he was awarded a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1988, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 1990, and honored at the Kennedy Center in 1995. B. B. King is one of the most successful artists in the history of the blues. He continues to tour, performing on average 250 concerts per year.

Copyright © 2012 by Visible Ink Press®

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article King, “B. B.” (Riley B.)
African-American Writers: A Dictionary

(9/16/1925–) Songs, autobiography Originally nicknamed “The Blues Boy from Beale Street,” King was soon “Blues Boy” and then simply “B. B.” His...

Full text Article King, B.B. (Riley B.)
Philip's Encyclopedia

1925- US rhythm-and-blues guitarist and singer-songwriter. Among his most notable albums is There Must be a Better World Somewhere (1981). ...

See more from Credo