B.B. King, the last of the Southern-born blues musicians who defined modern electric blues in the 1950s and would influence scores of rock and blues guitarists, has died. He was 89.
The Mississippi-born guitarist, who had suffered from Type II diabetes for two decades, died peacefully in his sleep at 9:40 p.m. PDT Thursday at his home in Las Vegas, his attorney Brent Bryson told the AP. In October, King fell ill during a show, and after being diagnosed with dehydration and exhaustion, canceled his concert tour and never returned to touring.
With his trusty Gibson guitar Lucille, King developed his audiences in stages, connecting with African-Americans region by region in the 1950s and ’60s, breaking through to the American mainstream in the ’70s and becoming a global ambassador for the blues soon thereafter, becoming the first blues musician to play the Soviet Union.
King, whose best-known song was “The Thrill is Gone,” developed a commercial style of the blues guitar-playing long on vibrato and short, stinging guitar runs while singing almost exclusively about romance. Unlike the musicians who influenced him, Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker, for example, or his contemporaries Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Howlin Wolf, whose music bore geographic identities, King’s music was not tethered to the style heard on the Mississippi plantation or the Beale Street sound in Memphis, where he first established his career.