Blues Legend B.B. King Dead at 89; Music Influenced By His Christian Faith

( [email protected] ) May 15, 2015 03:11 PM EDT
BB King
Facebook/BB King

A lawyer representing B.B. King confirmed that the blues legend died at 89 years old in Las Vegas. He leaves behind a music legacy that drew upon his Christian faith.

According to Bill Trott of Reuters, King said in May that he was undergoing hospice care at his home after going to hospital in April after suffering dehydration related to diabetes. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

"The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "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."

Trott reported that a Facebook page linked to his daughter, Claudette, confirmed King's death on Thursday.

King wrote an autobiography entitled "Blues All Around Me," describing how blues music was treated in comparison to rock and jazz. According to Trott, the blues legend, who was born to sharecropper parents on a Mississippi plantation, saw the "rough music born in the cotton fields of the segregated South reach a new audience."

"Being a blues singer is like being black twice," King wrote. "While the civil rights movement was fighting for the respect of black people, I felt I was fighting for the respect of the blues."

According to a report on, King had more than 40 studio albums to his credit. He told PBS back in 2013 that he found inspiration to play the guitar as a young boy when he saw his pastor play the instrument in church.

"I wanted to be like him. I wanted to be just like him," King said. "People used to tell me when I was younger that I played a lot like him."

Elaine Lipworth of The Arts Desk reported that King and his mother attended services at The Church of God in Christ. He also picked cotton alongside her, earning 35 cents a day.

"I couldn't compare my life on the plantation with anything else," King said. "My mother was very religious and I enjoyed church a lot too, [especially] when the girls were there."

King also elaborated on the influence the church had on his music style. According to Lipworth, the pastor of that church, Archie Fair, was both a relative and mentor to him.

"Where I lived at the time, we didn't have electricity till I was 16 years old, so even if I could have afforded an electric guitar, I wouldn't have been able to play one," King said, noting that he first heard the electric guitar through Fair. "But I loved hearing our pastor play and I loved gospel singing, I love it even today. The structure of the music is like rock and roll. It's like rhythm and blues."

King added that his mother, who became ill and died at 25, left a legacy on him that stayed throughout his life. He even said that his mother "really wanted me to be a preacher."

"I had no one really close to me who I could depend on and my mother seemed to be one of a kind to me," King said. "She told me, 'If you treat people nice you will always have somebody to help you, there will always be somebody on your side.' Just before she died, she went blind, but to me she was always a very beautiful lady."

Lipworth reported that even though King got his musical start through "black clubs," he struggled financially due to the mixed reaction he received even in his own community.

"A lot of my people from home, from Mississippi, got on my case and would say, 'you're playing the devil's music,' I would think to myself, 'When I was pickin' cotton was I pickin' the devil's cotton?' I was doing the same as I'm trying to do now, just making a living," King said.

Although King noted that he was "wild with women" while his professional life flourished, he admitted to Lipworth that his career made family responsibilities and commitments difficult. Although he officially had no children within his two marriages, he acknowledged being the father of 15 children.

"I've done as much for my children as your father or anybody else's father would do and that means I try to take care of them and tell them things they should or shouldn't do," King said. "I haven't been the best father, but I love all of my children. And when I look back, I have no regrets."

King, who was a practicing Christian until his death, told Lipworth that his mother's religion and moral values were the guiding principles in his life.

"I'll tell you something I don't think I've told anybody else," King said. "When I was going to church with my mother, the pastor made me feel a different way than anybody else. He made me feel that I could get a message to God."

According to, King's funeral arrangements have yet to be announced.


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