The King of the Blues is dead. BB King, the architect of modern blues and an inspiration to millions of guitar players world-wide, passed away in his sleep last night in Las Vegas. He was 89 years old. He had been battling a diabetes-related illness in recent months, which resulted his being placed in hopsice care at the beginning of the month.
A former farm hand in his native Mississippi, King racked up an astonishing 15 Grammy awards in his lifetime, and was ranked by Rolling Stone as the third greatest guitarist who ever lived. His chart hits include “My Lucille,” “Sweet Little Angel,” and “Rock Me Baby,” but his influence extended far and wide with classic albums Live At Regal, Live In Cook County Jail, and My Kind Of Blues.
Wielding his beloved Gibson ES-355, known to all as “Lucille,” he won acclaim by fusing blues and jazz in his own unique blend of playing, and also his trademark vocal growl. Following his fruitful earlier career in the 1950s and 1960s, during which time he released over 20 albums and performed over 300 shows annually, he had a career renaissance in 1988 following a duet with U2 on “When Love Comes To Town.” This soon sparked more collaborations with the likes of Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and Daryl Hall.
Despite his ill health and advanced age, until recently he performed more than 100 shows a year. His loss is incalculable, but his legacy will live forever.