From “I Got the Blues,” published in 1908 (the first published song to use the word blues), to the “Blues Brothers;” from W.C. Handy, to George Gershwin; from Clarksville, Mississippi, to New York City; from the “turn of the century,” to contemporary Rock and Soul Music, “Blues” has been at the core of the social, artistic and economic development of American Music. The origins of the Blues are closely related to the religious music of the Afro-American community…the “spirituals.” This musical form dates back to the 1800’s and while in its many incarnations it still retains the core of its centuries old roots.
In the 1950’s, “Blues” music transitioned from country to urban Blues when Chicago became the center of the Urban Blues movement. Performers such as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, and a young guitar player named B.B. King emerged to bring their influence to the wildly expanding “white” market and became part of “mainstream” American Popular music.
Of all of these performers, Riley B. King (B.B.) is the musician/songwriter/singer/guitarist who has emerged as the “King of the Blues.” Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him as #3 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time. Gibson, the iconic Guitar Company, ranked him as “one of the greatest guitarists of all time.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 as the “King of the Blues Guitar.”
King is a licensed pilot, which enabled him to fly to over 250 gigs per year, until he was in his seventies, and now in his 80’s he still performs in 100 shows a year (In 1950 it was recorded that he performed in 342 shows). Over the years he has developed the world’s most identifiable guitar style. His economy and phrasing has been a model for thousands of players. King has mixed blues, jazz, swing, and mainstream pop into his own unique sound, into which he has integrated his precise and complex vocal-like string bends, and his left hand vibrato, both of which have become indispensable components of contemporary rock guitarists’ vocabulary.
In addition to his performance schedule which would exhaust a man half his age, he has opened B.B. King’s Blues Clubs on Beale Street in Memphis, Universal City Walk in Los Angeles, New York City’s Times Square, Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, Nashville. West Palm Beach, the Mirage in Las Vegas, and most recently the B,B. King Blues Club in Orlando.
Along with all of his business ventures and performing schedule he has donated his time and money to his favorite non-profit organization, “Little Kids Rock” which provides free musical instruments and instruction to children in underprivileged public schools throughout the the U.S. He sits on the organization’s Honorary Board of Directors. He is also a high-profile spokesman for the fight against diabetes, which he has lived with for over 20 years.
King’s own musical tastes are very eclectic. His favorite performer is Frank Sinatra who he has credited with opening doors to black entertainers who were not given the chance to play in “white dominated” venues.
On the evening of January 4 VanWezel audiences will have the unique opportunity to hear one of the world’s greatest musical icons… The legendary B.B. King!