Riley B. King was born on a plantation in Itta Bena, Mississippi on September 16, 1925. He picked up his first guitar at age 15 and played on street corners for spare change. In 1947 he hitchhiked to Memphis, Tennessee and stayed with his cousin, delta blues guitarist Bukka White. He soon landed a spot on a local radio station, going by the name Riley King, Beale Street Blues Boy. Eventually, the Blues Boy was shortened to B.B. While he was doing a show in Twist, Arkansas, two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove, starting a fire. After evacuating along with everyone else, B.B. realized he left his beloved guitar inside. After risking his life to retrieve the guitar, he learned the men were fighting over a girl named Lucille. From then on, B.B. has named his trademark Gibson guitars Lucille. After he scored his first hit in 1964, “Rock Me Baby,” King began to tour nationally. That hit was followed by “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss,” and his most popular record, “The Thrill is Gone.”
King’s only appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show was on October 18, 1970. In his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me,” B.B. wrote: “National TV was a novelty for me, and the idea of appearing on Sullivan, the biggest show in the country, was frightening and thrilling. Two days of rehearsals meant lots of waiting, waiting, waiting, The rock ‘n’ roll and soul stars were used to national TV; they’d been playing American Bandstand for years. When it came to television, though, I felt like a virgin. This was live TV, and I was jumpy as a live wire. For 48 hours, I sweated it out. I was also squeezed between a bunch of other acts. George Burns was there, and the Carpenters, and Tony Bennett, and I can’t remember who else. Couldn’t concentrate on the comedy or the music ‘cause I was too busy worrying how I’d do. I did fine. The applause was good.” He and his band did more than fine. They performed a medley of “How Blue Can You Get,” “Just a Bit of Love” and then a bluesy, melancholy rendition of “The Thrill is Gone.”
Since his only Ed Sullivan Show performance, B.B. King has won 15 Grammys along with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was a Kennedy Center Honoree. He and his most recent incarnation of “Lucille” continue to perform for audiences around the globe, averaging 250 shows a year.