Legendary Blues musician B.B. King has died in Las Vegas. His career was influenced by his Christian upbringing, but his faith was not always strong.
Musical legend B.B. King has passed away at the age of 89.
King was raised in the church and began singing with his mother at age 4. She wanted him to be a preacher. His family’s preferred church was Baptist, but the Baptist church was very traditional and didn’t allow guitars. King wanted something less conventional musically and found his place at the Church of God in Christ in Mississippi. A pastor taught him a few simple chords and he was instantly a convert.
However, the Washington Post recalls the series of events that caused B.B. King to leave Christianity:
He noticed non-religious audiences were different while playing on the corner of Church and Second Street in Indianola, at the intersection of the black and white parts of town.
“People that would request a gospel song would always be very polite to me,” King recalled in 1999. “And they’d say, ‘Son, you’re mighty good. Keep it up. You’re going to be great one day.’ But they never put anything in the hat.”
When he played the blues, though, people would give him a little money or beer. On at least one occasion King recalled singing a spiritual song, changing the word “my Lord” to “my baby,” and getting a tip and a free beer.
“Now you know why I’m a blues singer,” King said.
When he was drafted into the Army in 1943, King stopped playing religious music. When he got out, he moved to Memphis and started playing in taverns and juke joints. He got his first hit in 1951 with “3 O’Clock Blues,” recorded in a makeshift studio in the back of the Memphis YMCA. It was a song about a man missing a woman in the middle of the night.
He was done with church music. He was even done with Christianity.
In a 2006 interview with British journalist Elaine Lipworth, King said that Christianity and the blues were opposed forces in African American history.
“A lot of the slave masters were teaching Christianity to the blacks because they thought if they were Christians they wouldn’t steal or wouldn’t run away. But some of them were going to be sold anyway, so they didn’t care and would play and sing about things that made them happy and made them feel good,” he said. “I guess I’m a disciple of some of those slaves.”
— Lenny Kravitz (@LennyKravitz) May 15, 2015
However, religion did make an appearance in some of his song, for example, in his song “Ole Time Religion:”
It was good for my old mother/And it’s good enough for me/It was good for the Hebrew children/And it’s good enough for me/It was good for Paul and Silas/And it’s good enough for me/Give me that old time religion/It is good enough for me.