NAMM Oral History Spotlight: B.B. King

Elizabeth Dale

The NAMM Oral History Collection recently captured its 4,000th interview, marking another milestone for a collection so unique and diverse that music enthusiasts of all levels are sure to recognize a few familiar faces. One of the more recognizable names in this collection of music retailers, repairmen, manufacturers, musicians, and the live sound and event communities is iconic bluesman, B.B. King.

Born Riley B. King, the son of sharecroppers on the Berclair cotton plantation near Itta Bena, Mississippi, King was drawn to the music of the Pentecostal Church of God in Christ and sang in its gospel choir. It was the minister of this church that taught King his first three chords on his Sears Roebuck Silvertone guitar that the minister used during services.

After getting his first guitar at age 12, King spent his youth playing on street corners for dimes, sometimes hitting up to four different towns in one evening. In 1947, he hitchhiked to Memphis to try and make a career out of music. Upon his arrival, King stayed with his cousin and celebrated blues performer, Bukka White, who taught him the art of the blues.

He caught his first big break the following year when he played on Sonny Boy Williamson’s radio program out of West Memphis, Arkansas. After this, the gigs were steady, including a performance on the Sepia Swing Club radio program and work as a disk jockey under the name “Beale Street Blues Boy,” which was eventually shortened to his now iconic moniker, B.B. King.

King sat down with Music Historian Dan Del Fiorentino in August of 2003 for his NAMM Oral History interview, during which he recounted his first amplifier and his beloved Lucille. Del Fiorentino recalled, “King was not only a masterful architect of sound, but he also was a warm spirit. With an iconic figure like King, one might expect distance from those he does not know, however, he welcomed me into his room and was adamant that I was both comfortable and able to gather the content I sought. It does my heart good to play a small role in keeping his memory alive.”

B.B. King

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Life after his 2005 NAMM Oral History interview didn’t slow down for King. He embarked on a 2006 “farewell” tour and continued playing until his last performance on October 3, 2014 at the House of Blues in Chicago. King passed away in 2015 and left behind an incomparable body of work and a lasting influence on the music industry.

For more interviews with those that worked closely and shared the stage with King, please visit /category/term/bb-king