Old Man River:  History Along the MississippiApril 19-November 2, 2003

The Arts Along the River

Music of the Mississippi

B.B. King

Bald eagle and alligator crossing sign
The Upper vs. The Lower Mississippi
B.B. King's guitar, Lucille
"LUCILLE" - one of B.B. King's electric guitars presented to President George Bush in 1989
~ George Bush Presidential Library and Museum, College Station TX

"I've never really been accepted by the blues purists as a true blues guitarist because they say I use too many clichés … I could never be a real jazz musician because I don't improvise well enough … I don't sing gospel well enough to be considered a gospel singer … All I do is play Lucille."
--B.B. King

Born in Itta Bena, Mississippi in 1925, Riley King tried becoming a sharecropper like his father, but soon packed up his $2.50 guitar and headed for Memphis in 1946. It was there on Beale Street that he learned to sing and play the blues, earning the nickname "B.B." or "Blues Boy."

During the 1950s and 1960s, social barriers segregated the blues as "race music," so King performed across the country to black audiences only. In 1965, the racial barriers finally began to fall and he appeared at the Newport Folk Festival. After his huge 1966 hit, "The Thrill is Gone," his national reputation skyrocketed through guest appearances on television.

Today, King still performs with Gibson Model ES-355 guitars, all named "Lucille." It all began during his early touring days after a fist fight in an Arkansas roadhouse led to a devastating fire. B.B. risked his life to rescue his guitar, because he couldn't afford a new one. He later discovered that the two men were fighting over … you guessed it … a woman named Lucille!

This section "The Arts Along the River" has the following related pages:

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2 men in a canoe
Early Exploration and Development
River Days
view of Bellview, Iowa
Riverfront Property
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Man vs. Man
Bald eagle and conservation officer
Man vs. Nature
You are here!jazz musician
The Arts Along the River
New Orleans graveyard
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