There's a reason they called him "King of the Blues."
Did you know B.B. King nearly died for his guitar?
He told the story to Joe Smith in a 1986 interview, which was animated for the episode of PBS's "Blank on Blank" above. It was in his early touring days. He'd just finished a set in an Arkansas club when a fight broke out, causing a fire. It wasn't until he reached safety that he realized he'd left his guitar behind, so he ran back in to retrieve it.
After his narrow escape, he learned that the conflict was between two men fighting over a woman whose name he adopted for his now iconic six-string, "Lucille."
Why risk his life for a guitar? Well, his music wasn't just a hobby. It was who he was.
King came into this world in a place and time that wasn't easy for the black community. He was born in a small Mississippi town in 1925, when Jim Crow was the rule of the South, and the country had decades to go before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But that experience made his — and other southern blues greats' — rise to fame possible. The distinct, emotive sound of southern blues was an evolution of music rooted in a legacy of racism and oppression. And blues music was an important cultural movement that helped break down racial barriers in the U.S. as it earned its place in the mainstream.
But blues music, according to King, isn't just for southern black folks.
"This is kind of how blues began — out of feeling misused, mistreated. Feeling like they had nobody to turn to. Blues don't necessarily have to be sung by a person that came from Mississippi, as I did, because there are people having problems all over the world." — B.B. King
King's goal at every show was to make his music a truly uniting force.
"When I go on the stage each night, I try my best to outguess my audience. And I like to feel in most cases like I'm a big guy with long rubber arms that I can reach around my audience and swing and sway with them, move them with me." — B.B. King
King moved and inspired people young and old (myself included) until the day he passed.
He became known as "King of the Blues." And while he was a master of his craft, it was his ethic and humility that drew people in and will do so for generations to come.
"I don't like to feel that I owe anything. I like to feel that I paid my own way. No free lunch. And when people give me all these great compliments, I thank them but still go back to my room to practice. ... I am not inventing anything that's going to stop cancer or muscular dystrophy. But I like to feel that my time and talent is always there for the people that need it." — B.B. King