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#ThrowbackThursday: Remembering B.B. King

B.B. King

by Sean Smith

This weekend Blues legend B.B. King will be laid to rest in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi. A public viewing will be held tomorrow, Friday May 29th, at the B.B. King Museum and funeral services will be held the following day at Bell Grove M.B. Church, both located in Indianola. The King of Blues passed away May 14th at the age of 89.

B.B. King will forever be remembered for his heralded music career, and rightfully so. In his long and storied career, King released over 60 albums and held over 18,000 live performances. He won a total of 15 Grammy Awards over the years and was awarded with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. King was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and in 2006 was given the nation’s highest civilian honor by President George W. Bush, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

There are a number of songs that we can look back on this week to remember B.B. King. His first chart-topping single came in 1951 with the release of his ninth career single “Three O’Clock Blues”. The song was a cover of a 1948 Lowell Fulson’s song, but landed King atop the R&B chart for five weeks. The song that many people have used in remembering B.B. King since his passing has been his most popular hit “The Thrill Is Gone”. That song was released in 1969 and was a cover of a 1951 track originally performed by Roy Hawkins. However, “The Thrill Is Gone” would ultimately become the most successful single of B.B. King’s career, at least in terms of popularity, reaching the fifteenth spot on Billboard Hot 100 mainstream chart shortly after its release. It also won King his first Grammy Award in 1971 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

However, in remembrance of B.B. King, I want to take some time to reflect on a much lesser known song by the King of Blues with “Why I Sing The Blues”. The song was released on King’s sixteenth studio album, Live & Well in 1969. The album title comes from the song makeup of the album. The first five songs on the record are live recordings while the final five songs were recorded during a two day recording session, making up the “well” portion of the album. “Why I Sing The Blues” is a song that falls into the “well” part of the album and was recorded in those two days recording at The Hit Factory, a famed recording studio in New York City. The song is blues in every sense of the word. From the crying sound of King’s guitar riffs to the song’s lyrics, which speak to the many hardships African-Americans have faced in America from slavery up until 1969.

“Why I Sing The Blues” is a perfect song to remember B.B. King, not only because it is a wondrous display of his musical talent, but also because the hardships he sung about were real to him. While we knew B.B. King as a famous blues artist, with countless awards, his beginnings were more closely aligned with the lyrics of “Why I Sing The Blues”. B.B. King was born in 1925 to Albert and Nora Ella King. His parents were living in utter poverty working as sharecroppers in rural Mississippi at a time when African-Americans, especially in that part of the country, were not treated with the equality and respect they deserved. His parents split and King would live with his mother and grandmother, that is until they both died leaving King on his own at only 14 years of age. As a teenager he was working in the cotton fields and a gin, the latter of which has been restored and is now a part of the B.B. King Museum in Indianola. Eventually, as we all know, King would go on to make musical history despite his humble origins.

So in honor of the late B.B. King we take a moment to remember his life and musical career through his 1969 song “Why I Sing The Blues”. Enjoy.

B.B King

“Why I sing The Blues” 

From: Live & Well 

MCA Records

B.B King
“The Thrill Is Gone” 
Bluesway/ABC Records