15 May

RIP B.B. King. One of the Greatest Bluesmen is Gone

Sad news yesterday (May 14th, 2015), B.B. King died at the age of 89. The New York Times had a great write-up about him and his life. Some great parts are:

Mr. King considered a 1968 performance at the Fillmore West, the San Francisco rock palace, to have been the moment of his commercial breakthrough, he told a public-television interviewer in 2003. A few years earlier, he recalled, an M.C. in an elegant Chicago club had introduced him thus: “O.K., folks, time to pull out your chitlins and your collard greens, your pigs’ feet and your watermelons, because here is B. B. King.” It had infuriated him.

When he saw “long-haired white people” lining up outside the Fillmore, he said, he told his road manager, “I think they booked us in the wrong place.” Then the promoter Bill Graham introduced him to the sold-out crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the chairman of the board, B. B. King.”

“Everybody stood up, and I cried,” Mr. King said. “That was the beginning of it.”

That was a great thing to read. B.B King broke down color barriers. His music wasn’t black or white, it was real.

There were hard times when the blues fell out of fashion with young black audiences in the early 1960s. Mr. King never forgot being booed at the Royal by teenagers who cheered the sweeter sounds of Sam Cooke.

“They didn’t know about the blues,” he said 40 years after the fact. “They had been taught that the blues was the bottom of the totem pole, done by slaves, and they didn’t want to think along those lines.”

That made me sad. The Blues are part of the American heritage. They were born out of the poor experiences of the descendants of slaves, which makes it that much more important. If we know where it came from, it can help us not to repeat history.

I am teaching my 4 year old son about all kinds of music, but focusing on jazz and blues. The other day I had some Maynard Ferguson on the stereo and he asked what it was. When I said it was Maynard, he said “Play me the blues!” I laughed so hard. Now I am sad that he will grow up in a world without B.B. King. At least I will always be able to play his music.

If you want to hear his music, there is a playlist in memory of B.B. King on Spotify. If you want to buy his music, check out B.B. King’s page on Amazon.

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