B.B. King: 7 Things You Didn't Know About the Late Blues Icon

B. B. King
B. B. King stands in the street with his guitar, Lucille in this undated photo. (Vandell Cobb/Ebony Collection via AP Images)Vandell Cobb / Ebony Collection via AP

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B.B. King, 1925-2015

May 15, 201501:40

The thrill really is gone: B.B. King has died at 89.

In a career that lasted almost seven decades, he inspired Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and generations of other guitarists. His music never lost the weary sound of the impoverished Mississippi Delta where he grew up.

GALLERY: The Life of a Guitar Legend

Here are some things you may not have known about the King of the Blues:

  • His real name is Riley B. King. B.B. stood for "Beale Street Blues Boy," a nickname he acquired after his radio DJ days in Memphis.
  • King grew up on a tenant farm near Itta Bena, Mississippi, where he worked as a sharecropper picking cotton. He was raised by his grandmother.
  • He was married twice but his greatest love was his guitar, which he affectionately called Lucille. The New York Times shares the legend of the guitar:

He was playing a dance hall in Twist, Ark., in the early 1950s when two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove. Mr. King fled the blaze — and then remembered his $30 guitar. He ran into the burning building to rescue it.He learned thereafter that the fight had been about a woman named Lucille. For the rest of his life, Mr. King addressed his guitars — big Gibsons, curved like a woman’s hips — as Lucille.

  • By the numbers: King won 15 Grammy Awards, recorded more than 50 albums and toured the world well into his 80s. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He had 15 children.
  • He was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2006.
  • "The Thrill is Gone," King's biggest hit, from 1969, was a cover of Roy Hawkins' 1951 jam about heartbreak.
  • In October, he was forced to cancel eight tour dates because of dehydration and exhaustion. In 2013, he told Rolling Stone: "I'm slower. As you get older, your fingers sometimes swell. But I've missed 18 days in 65 years. Sometimes guys will just take off; I've never done that. If I'm booked to play, I go and play."
— Amber Payne