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Legendary ‘King of the Blues’ B.B. King Dies at Age 89

The most famous bluesman in the world had canceled shows and was battling a diabetes-related illness

Arguably the first musician that comes to mind when most Sesame Street-raised folks think of the blues, the legendary Mississippi-born guitarist B.B. King has died, after canceling shows and being hospitalized in Las Vegas due to exhaustion and dehydration. He was 89.

Widely considered one of the greatest guitarists to have ever lived, the man born Riley B. King was known for naming his instrument “Lucille” in 1949, after running back through a burning building to retrieve it, and learning that the fire had been started when a barrel of kerosene was spilled during a fight over a woman with the same name.

His stage name “B.B.” was derived from the nickname “Beale Street Blues Boy,” which dates back to his days as a disc jockey after serving in World War II. He cut his first record in 1949 and recorded for the iconic Sun label during the 1950s. Later he released such classic albums as Live in Cook County Jail and Live at the Regal and some of the most famous songs in blues history: “Every Day I Have the Blues,” “Sweet Little Angel,” “Sweet Sixteen,” and the Grammy-winning pop hit “The Thrill Is Gone.”

He maintained an unimaginable touring schedule of 300 shows a year right up to his death and enjoyed an unusual level of visibility in pop culture that led to such collaborations as “When Love Comes to Town” with U2 and an entire album with Eric Clapton in 2000, Riding With the King. Primitive Radio Gods’ 1996 alt-rock hit “Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand” is well-known for its chorus sampled from King’s “How Blue Can You Get.”

King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and was known for his own museum (The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Mississippi) and blues clubs (B.B. King’s, in New York City and Memphis, Tennessee). In 2006, the same year he celebrated his 10,000th show (from which the above photo was taken), he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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