Tag Archives: WDIA

King of the Blues Dies

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A giant in the blues world, B.B. King has died in his Las Vegas home. After collapsing during a concert in Chicago last October, the 89-year-old was hospitalized for dehydration and exhaustion. Since then he has suffered ill health with a diabetes-related illness. B.B. King had been in hospice care in his home where he passed away peacefully in his sleep on Thursday, May 14.

The son of a sharecropper, Riley B. King was born September 16, 1925, on a plantation near Itta Bena, MS. He left school after grade 10 to make a living driving a tractor and picking cotton for 75 cents a day. His preacher uncle taught him to play guitar but it wasn’t until basic training in the Army in World War II when he began playing and singing the blues.

photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos

Riley sang gospel songs on a Memphis street corner until he got a job at 23 at radio station WDIA as a disc jockey nicknamed “Beale Street Blues Boy.” In addition to a steady gig, it gave him access to a wide range of records in the station’s library. King studied the music of guitar greats like Robert Johnson, Django Reinhardt, and T-Bone Walker.

While playing local clubs at night, he first recorded four sides at Bullet Records in 1949 and his 1951 record Three O’Clock Blues became a top seller. His heartfelt vocals and wailing guitar would be the centerpiece of a string of hits including My Lucille, Sweet Little Angel, How Blue Can You Get, The Thrill is Gone, and many more.

From 1950 to 1970, B.B. King was always on the road and never home. He travelled an average 300 days a year and spent the rest of his time in the recording studio. (In recent years, he reduced his days on the road to 100.) Over several decades in the music business, he won 15 Grammys and sold more than 40 million records worldwide. King was inducted in both The Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

B.B. King’s gritty voice and scorching guitar licks on his Gibson ES-355 named Lucille influenced a generation of blues and rock guitarists like Otis Rush, Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix, Robert Cray, John Mayall, and Mike Bloomfield. His friend and record-mate Eric Clapton posted this moving tribute:

Always a gentleman onstage and off, this is B.B. King’s lively guest appearance on Sesame Street:

B.B. King: The Life of Riley

If you want to know more about King’s life, watch “B.B. King: The Life of Riley,” a feature documentary about this legendary blues musician. Directed by Jon Brewer and narrated by Morgan Freeman, the film takes us from Riley’s humble beginnings overcoming poverty and racism to become an international star. Brewer spent two years wading through 250 hours of archive footage and interviews to assemble a complete portrait of the man. (Warts and all.)

Even though its theatrical run is finished, you can download “B.B. King: The Life of Riley” from iTunes:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/b.b.-king-life-of-riley/id912903759

You can also buy it on DVD at:

http://www.econgroupinc.net/bbking/b-b-king-life-of-riley-dvd-preorder.html

B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center

If you are heading south from Memphis along the Mississippi Blues Trail, the impressive B.B. King Museum in Indianola, MS is a shrine for blues lovers. The museum not only profiles King’s life and career, but showcases many other blues artists from the Delta.

B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
400 Second Street, Indianola, MS 38751
http://www.bbkingmuseum.org/

Every year for the past 40 years, Mr. King returned to Indianola to perform for his hometown. This year’s annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival will be held in his honor at the museum grounds on Sunday, May 24th, 2015 at 2:00 pm.

B.B. King Homecoming Festival
http://www.bbkingmuseum.org/bb-king-homecoming-festival

B.B. King opened his last album singing, “I’m not going anytime soon, but when the day comes, don’t forget me.”

There’s little chance of that.  May his music last forever.

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Memphis Music

Beale Street

photo by mrbrent62, Flickr
photo by mrbrent62, Flickr

Birthplace of the blues. Touristy and bustling with people but there’s still good music there.   Walk around the small strip of bars and restaurants for the neon and party atmosphere alone. When you hear a band you like, pop in for a drink or two. The clubs feature blues, of course, but you may also hear soul, R & B, rock, country, and rockabilly played on Beale.
http://www.memphistravel.com/music-nightlife

The Memphis Flyer

MemphisFlyer
Many music clubs are located all around town not just on Beale Street so the best way to find out what’s going on is to pick up the free local entertainment weekly, The Memphis Flyer. http://www.memphisflyer.com/

Blues Music Awards

photo by JoTeri, Flickr
photo by JoTeri, Flickr

Sponsored by The Blues Foundation, the annual Blues Music Awards celebrate the best in blues music. It’s like the Academy Awards for great blues musicians! Leading up to the big night, many of the top artists are in town, playing in clubs and attending the ceremony.
The Blues Foundation
421 South Main, Memphis TN 38103
Phone: (901) 527-2583
http://blues.org/

International Blues Challenge

photo by BlairEvanBall, Flickr
photo by BlairEvanBall, Flickr

Hundreds of blues musicians come from all over the country and the world to take part in this annual five-day event, usually held in late January. Performers for the challenge are chosen by local blues societies to come to compete in three categories: Band, Solo/Duet, and Best Self-Produced CD–all for cash, prizes, and industry recognition.
The Blues Foundation
421 South Main, Memphis TN 38103
Phone: (901) 527-2583
http://blues.org/

Beale Street Music Festival

photo by ConcertTour, Flickr
photo by ConcertTour, Flickr

Part of the Memphis in May International Festival, this annual three-day event is held at Riverfront Park at the foot of Beale Street. There’s an emphasis on local musicians but the three outdoor stages showcase many national touring artists, too.
Memphis in May International Festival
56 South Front St, Memphis, TN 38103
Phone (901) 525-4611
http://www.memphisinmay.org/music-about

Memphis Music and Heritage Festival

photo by memphissamiam1, Flickr
photo by memphissamiam1, Flickr

Usually held over the Labor Day weekend, this colorful festival takes place on Main Street in downtown Memphis.  For two days, a wide variety of cultures take to the streets with people enjoying local music of every kind–blues, gospel, rock, folk, country–along with cooking demonstrations and dance shows throughout the day.
http://www.memphismusicandheritagefestival.com/

Center for Southern Folklore

photo by joespake, Flickr
photo by joespake, Flickr

In addition to showcasing artists’ work, this gallery also hosts music events in the evenings.  There’s only about two dozen tables so it’s an intimate way to see up-and-coming and established artists in a casual setting. If it’s a freebie, be sure to throw a tip in the musician’s bucket or buy their CD.
The Center for Southern Folklore
123 South Main Street, Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 525-3655
http://www.southernfolklore.com/

The Full Gospel Tabernacle

photo by ConcertTour
photo by ConcertTour

Born in Arkansas in 1946, singer Al Green was ordained a pastor of the Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis in the seventies.  This is where he still preaches and sings gospel when he’s in town.  Here’s a video of Rev. Green performing the classic “A Change is Gonna Come.”

The Full Gospel Tabernacle
787 Hale Road, Memphis, TN
Phone: 901-396 9192
http://www.algreenmusic.com/fullgospeltabernacle.html

Elvis Week

photo by John Dreyer, Flickr
photo by John Dreyer, Flickr

Elvis tribute artists converge at Graceland for the annual Elvis Week celebration in August. Festivities also include special tours, hip-shakin’ karaoke, movie screenings, and dance parties. Long live The King!

photo by marques.murilo, Flickr
photo by marques.murilo, Flickr

Graceland
3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, TN 38116
Phone: +1 901-332-3322
http://www.elvis.com/

WDIA Radio

photo by ilovememphis, Flickr
photo by ilovememphis, Flickr

While you’re in town, check out local radio. On the air since 1947, WDIA became the first radio station in America programming music entirely for African-Americans. B.B. King worked here as a disc jockey, and so did Rufus Thomas–two of the many black radio personalities the station hired over the years.

photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos
photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos

WDIA AM 1070
12 Union Ave, Memphis, TN 38103
Phone: (901) 525-3318
http://www.mywdia.com/main.html