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B.B. King Dies at 89

Photo by Derek Meade
Photo by Derek Meade

Blues guitar legend B.B. King has died. The musician passed away at his home in Las Vegas late Thursday night, his attorney confirmed. He was 89 years old.

Born Riley B. King in Mississippi, the guitarist learned the blues from his mother’s cousin, Bukka White. He started playing shows at the age of twelve, earning the nickname Beale Street Blues Boy, which eventually became shortened to Blues Boy and, finally, B.B.

Over the years, King developed what would become one of the most influential styles of guitar playing in the history of music. By mixing string bends and vibrato with the traditional blues of men like T-Bone Walker, King could coax beautiful sounds out of his guitar. At times, his playing sounded like the performance of a vocalist. The style was a huge influence on the blues-rock explosion of the 1960’s, but King himself didn’t get mainstream recognition until 1970, when “The Thrill Is Gone” charted on Billboard’s Hot 100.

Through it all, King remained one of the hardest-working performers in the business, playing over 100 dates per year well into his eighties. His status as an icon led to several all-star collaborations with the likes of U2 and Eric Clapton.

On a video posted to his Facebook page, Clapton paid tribute to his friend and inspiration, calling him “a beacon for all of us who love this kind of music.”

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