SuperTalk Mississippi

BB King is Dead, Long Live the King: Mississippi Legend Leaves Incredible Mark on Music

LAS VEGAS, Nev.–BB King is dead, reported his family Thursday night. He died in his home in Las Vegas at age 89. The blues icon has left an immeasurable mark on the musical heritage of Mississippi and the country.

King stopped performing last year while on tour. He returned home and had been there ever since, suffering from complications related to type II diabetes. That’s the only reason he stopped performing.


“He’s a real ambassador for our state,” said Shelley Ritter, executive director of the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, which has one of King’s famous “Lucille” Gibson guitars on display. “His incredible touring schedule throughout his lifetime is just phenomenal. He’s brought a positive face about Mississippi globally.”

The BB King Museum in Indianola brings thousands of visitors to Mississippi each year, with state-of-the-art multimedia exhibits. The place where the museum was built was also the epicenter of the annual BB King Homecoming, which ended in 2014 with his final homecoming performance.

King was born near Itta Bena in 1926. He calls Indianola his home town, though he lived with different relatives in different places, learning guitar before moving to Memphis in 1946 to pursue his career.

King is known for being able to play many different musical styles and is listed at No. 6 on Rolling Stone’s top 100 guitarists of all time.

“We associate blues with rural southern existence,” said Don Allan “Chip” Mitchell, blues professor at Delta State. “One of the things I’ve always liked about him is BB has been able to polish the blues and use some of that big band knowledge he has of the 40s and 50s to form his band. BB has been great about being able to package the blues in a little more sophisticated package.”


He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Even though King could’ve retired and had an enduring musical legacy at that time, he continued on for 27 years more.

“Just by traveling and playing the blues he was spreading a little bit of Mississippi throughout America. So people would listen to it and say ‘hey, I want to learn to play that’.”

King could be called a consummate showman and a true gentlemen of the blues, said Mitchell.

King also went public with his type II diabetes, something not uncommon to his home state. He was never remiss in encouraging people to get their blood sugar checked. When he was diagnosed, his blood sugar was 600. A normal reading is closer to 100.

King lived on for over 20 years with the disease. He said that while on tour he watched what he ate.

He was hospitalized last year with complications that included dehydration.

He may have had a mild heart attack in April, something not uncommon in people with diabetes.

Riley King died at his home Thursday night, said his daughter, after being in hospice care for about two weeks.


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