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B.B. King

“King of the Blues”

Born on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi in 1925, Riley B. King would start from very humble beginnings. His family moved around the area, and the young Riley experienced early a life of constant motion. As a youngster he was a farm laborer, but drawn to music, he took up the guitar; he played on street corners, and would sometimes play in as many as four towns a night. In 1946, he hitchhiked to Memphis, to pursue his music career. Memphis was a large musical community where every style of music could be found, a good place for a young man who wanted to play the blues. Riley stayed with his cousin Bukka White, a celebrated bluesman in his own right, who was able to show him first hand the guitar foundations of the blues.

Playing an acoustic set of rural blues, he kicked around a lot of the clubs in Memphis, getting a break in 1948 when he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio program on KWEM out of West Memphis. This led to steady engagements at the 16th St. Grill in West Memphis, and later to a ten-minute spot on black Memphis radio station WDIA. “King's Spot,” became so popular, it was expanded and became the “Sepia Swing Club.” Becoming a popular local disc jockey, Riley needed a professional sounding name. He was the Beale Street Blues Boy then Blues Boy King, and eventually B.B. King. This led to the studio recording of “Miss Martha King” for the local Bullet label, which didn’t cause much of a stir, but it did stimulate B.B. to pursue a recording contract.

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