“King of the Blues” B.B. King died on May 14 at age 89, leaving behind a legacy that includes 17 Grammy Awards, two honorary doctorates, and inclusion in two musical Halls of Fame. His influence isn’t limited to just his vibrato solo style – borrowed by everyone from Eric Clapton to Bonnie Raitt to U2’s The Edge – as King was also a prominent contributor to charitable groups, including Little Kids Rock, a musical instruction program for disadvantaged youth.
And King’s influence wasn’t limited to the field of music alone, as President Obama noted in a statement released on May 15. He and his music could inspire new directions, too.
The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend. B.B. King was born a sharecropper’s son in Mississippi, came of age in Memphis, Tennessee, and became the ambassador who brought his all-American music to his country and the world. No one worked harder than B.B. No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues.
Three years ago, Michelle and I hosted a blues concert at the White House. I hadn’t expected that I’d be talked into singing a few lines of ‘Sweet Home Chicago’ with B.B. by the end of the night, but that was the kind of effect his music had, and still does. He gets stuck in your head, he gets you moving, he gets you doing the things you probably shouldn’t do – but will always be glad you did. B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever. And there’s going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight.
Here’s a video from that White House concert the president mentions:
Obama isn’t the only U.S. president to note appreciation for the legendary guitarist. In 2006, George W. Bush awarded King with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Featured image via screen capture from YouTube