LAS VEGAS (CBSNewYork/AP) —B.B. King, whose scorching guitar licks and heartfelt vocals made him the idol of generations of musicians and fans while earning him the nickname King of the Blues, died late Thursday at home in Las Vegas. He was 89.
His attorney, Brent Bryson, told The Associated Press that King died peacefully in his sleep at 9:40 p.m. PDT. He said funeral arrangements were underway.READ MORE: Sharee Jones Charged With Arson, Hate Crime After Fire At Brooklyn Yeshiva
Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg confirmed the death.
King’s eldest surviving daughter Shirley King of the Chicago area said she was upset that she didn’t have a chance to see her father before he died.
“He was a family man who took care of his whole family,” she told CBS News. “He will always live in my heart. God Bless.”
Although he had continued to perform well into his 80s, the 15-time Grammy winner suffered from diabetes and had been in declining health during the past year. He collapsed during a concert in Chicago last October, later blaming dehydration and exhaustion. He had been in hospice care at his Las Vegas home.
For most of a career spanning nearly 70 years, Riley B. King was not only the undisputed king of the blues but a mentor to scores of guitarists, who included Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall and Keith Richards. He recorded more than 50 albums and toured the world well into his 80s, often performing 250 or more concerts a year.
President Barack Obama released a statement saying, “The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend.”
The president said King gets stuck in your head and gets you doing things you probably shouldn’t, recalling how he was unexpectedly drawn into singing a few lines of “Sweet Home Chicago” with King when he performed at a White House blues concert three years ago.
“B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever,” Obama said, adding there’s “going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight.”
Clapton took to social media Friday to express his condolences.
“I just wanted to express my sadness and to say thank you to my dear friend B.B. King,” Clapton said in a video posted on his Facebook page. “I want to thank him for all the inspiration and encouragement he gave me as a player over the years and for the friendship that we enjoyed.”
Singer Smokey Robinson praised the music legend.
“The world has physically lost not only one of the greatest musical people ever but one of the greatest people ever. Enjoy your eternity,” Robinson said.
Other celebrities also shared their memories and expressed condolences on Twitter.
The former manager of the B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in Times Square told CBS2’s Andrea Grymes that when King would come perform, if he was feeling well, he’d wait until every last fan got a picture or autograph.
“He was the finest gentleman I ever met and we’re going to miss him terribly,” said Gerry Merson.
“I’m going to miss seeing him, talking to him, and just spending time in the dressing room and hanging out and hearing his stories,” club owner Steven Bensusan said.
As news spread of his death, fans came to the club to pay tribute to King.
Some left flowers, others cards, 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.
“I play guitar. He’s a huge influence. So I just wanted to pay my respects,” said fan Nikki Alcazar.
James from Harlem knelt down and prayed in front of the marquee.
“I told him the struggle is over, you’re at peace now — no more sickness, no more illness — and God bless,” he said.READ MORE: NYPD: Delivery Worker Stabbed To Death, E-Bike Stolen Near Sara D. Roosevelt Park
King played a Gibson guitar he affectionately called Lucille with a style that included beautifully crafted single-string runs punctuated by loud chords, subtle vibratos and bent notes.
The result could bring chills to an audience, no more so than when King used it to full effect on his signature song, “The Thrill is Gone.” He would make his guitar shout and cry in anguish as he told the tale of forsaken love, then end with a guttural shouting of the final lines: “Now that it’s all over, all I can do is wish you well.”
His style was unusual. King didn’t like to sing and play at the same time, so he developed a call-and-response between him and Lucille.
“Sometimes I just think that there are more things to be said, to make the audience understand what I’m trying to do more,” King told The Associated Press in 2006. “When I’m singing, I don’t want you to just hear the melody. I want you to relive the story, because most of the songs have pretty good storytelling.”
A preacher uncle taught him to play, and he honed his technique in abject poverty in the Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the blues.
“I’ve always tried to defend the idea that the blues doesn’t have to be sung by a person who comes from Mississippi, as I did,” he said in the 1988 book “Off the Record: An Oral History of Popular Music.”
“People all over the world have problems,” he said. “And as long as people have problems, the blues can never die.”