Who are B. B. King and “Lucille”?

B. B. (Riley B.) King (1925–) has reached legendary status as a singer, guitarist, and bandleader and has become one of the most successful artists in the history of the blues. King, who never finished high school, was born in Indianola, Mississippi. He began his musical career singing with a gospel group in 1940, but soon learned he could earn more money by playing and singing the blues on the street. In 1946 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he had his own radio show on station WDIA, and later became a disc jockey. The station named him “The Boy from Beale Street,” and thereafter he was known as “B.B.” By the 1960s he was a successful performer. In 1979 he was the first black blues artist to perform in what was the Soviet Union. The recordings of such musicians as Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897–1929) influenced his early style. King participated in the Vatican’s 1997 Christmas concert, after which he and a group of international artists held a special audience with Pope John Paul II. At the end of the concert, King donated “Lucille,” his famous fifty-year-old guitar, to the pontiff. His love for music and women and his struggles to succeed in the music business are among the details of his life included in his mid-1990s autobiography, Blues All around Me: The Autobiography of B. B. King. He is noted for his philanthropy, including a huge gift of vintage, collector’s-item records. He received an honorary doctorate from Tougaloo College in Mississippi in 1973, becoming the first black musician to receive an honorary degree for work in the blues. King also holds an honorary degree, conferred in 1977, from Yale University. He won a Grammy for his blues album Blues ‘n’ Jazz in 1984, a Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1988, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Arts in 1990, and honored at the Kennedy Center in 1995.


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