Blues pioneer B.B. King is being remembered today in the Mississippi Delta as a man whose talent was equaled by his generous spirit.
King’s funeral is being held Saturday in Indianola, Mississippi – the small town where he first gained attention as a young singer and guitarist who had already been a sharecropper and worked in a cotton gin.
King was 89 when he died May 14 at his home in Las Vegas. More than 4,000 people viewed his open casket Friday at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola.
One of his sons, Willie King of Chicago, said his father taught him to respond with love when others are angry.
“For a man coming out of the cotton field unlearned and you take his music and draw four corners of the world together – that is amazing,” Willie King said Friday at the museum, where his father will be buried.
King’s public viewing Friday was almost like a state funeral, with Mississippi Highway Patrol officers in dress uniform standing at each end of the casket. Two of his black electric guitars – each named Lucille – stood among sprays of flowers.
Blues guitarist Buddy Guy, 78, said he always intended to tour the B.B. King Museum while its namesake, his longtime friend, was still living.
“His left hand was a special effect,” Guy said, describing King’s talent for bending strings to make the guitar sing.
“These young people playing, you punch a button and you get a vibration,” Guy said. “He didn’t need that. He invented that.”
Mike Doster of Nashville played bass in King’s band for 17 years and said King nicknamed him “Mighty Mike.”
“He was very demanding but very fair,” Doster said Friday as he waited for King’s casket to be wheeled out of the museum after the public viewing in Indianola.