B.B. King Biography


B.B. KingClaim to Fame: Blues singer and musician
DOB: September 16, 1925
Died: May 14, 2015
Diabetes Type: 2

Born Riley B. King in 1925, the name "B.B." is actually an abbreviation of the nickname "Blues Boy," given to him early on in his musical career. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and ranked third on Rolling Stone's List of "100 greatest guitarists of all time," King was a blues performer best-known for his rich singing and smooth guitar skills.

Raised in Mississippi, King was originally from Berclair, near Indianola, where he lived with his parents, Albert King and Nora Ella Farr, until his father left and his mother, too poor to raise B.B., sent him to live with his grandmother, Elnora Farr, in Kilmichael.  King began singing gospel choir for the Elkhorn Baptist Church, until he left Kilmichael for Inverness to play guitar for the well-known St. John's Quartet. While working in Inverness, King also performed on the radio in Greenwood. However, "The King of Blues," as he would later be called, did not really get noticed until 1948 when he went to West Memphis, Arkansas where he performed on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio show and developed a local fan base. King was given a position on the Williamson's show called "King's Spot," but the spot became so popular it expanded to a longer section, entitled the "Sepia Swing Club."

In the early 1950's, following a couple of key performances, King got involved with the " ‘chitlin' circuit," a series of venues that appealed to African-Americans in the segregated areas of the south, and booked 342 concerts. Around the same time, King also started his own record label, Blues Boys Kingdom, and made his first recording.

In 1964, King signed with ABC Records, which released "Live at the Regal," one of King's most successful albums, ranked #141 on Rolling Stone's "500 Greatest Albums of All Time." However, in 1969 he released his biggest hit single, "The Thrill is Gone," for which King won a Grammy Award. King also found great success in the collaborative work he did over the years, performing with names like Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, and Bo Diddley. In 1984, King was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, and in 1987, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That same year, King received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. King was also awarded honorary doctorates from the University of Mississippi, Yale University, and the Berklee College of Music.

Throughout his adult life, King wrestled with type 2 diabetes. Upon diagnosis, the musician labored to learn all that he could about the disease and how to balance a life on the road with his diabetes care. King stated that it was through constant checking and oral medications that he was able to work with his disease and maintain a successful, healthy lifestyle. King was an active member of the diabetes community, working to promote awareness and serve as a role model for people feeling trapped by their illness, stating, "I hope my voice and the things I say will encourage someone out there and help them learn the truth about diabetes and act on it." King participated in commercials for One Touch glucose monitors and Actos oral diabetes medication.

He performed up until October 2014, where he had to stop a live performance at the House of Blues in Chicago, Illinois due to dehydration and exhaustion. Following this, the eight remaining shows of his ongoing tour were cancelled, and King returned home to recuperate. On May 1, 2015, after two hospitalizations caused by complications from high blood pressure and diabetes, King announced on his website that he was in hospice care at his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. He passed away there on May 14 at 9:40 PM PDT.

Click here to see B.B. King's appearance on dLifeTV.

Find other musicians with diabetes.

Last Modified Date: May 15, 2015

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