BB King, known as the “King of the Blues,” died in his sleep in Las Vegas on May 14 after fighting illness for the past few months.
King, with classic hits such as “Three O’Clock Blues,” “Payin’ the Cost to be the Boss,” and “The Thrill is Gone,” and as an inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, credits the church with first exposing him to music.
While BB King truly cut his Blues-loving teeth on old 78 records a family member gave him a little later on, it was his time spent in the African American churches of the Mississippi Delta that fostered his love of music.
King’s family was actually Baptist, and the music of the Baptist church, conventional and traditional church fare, did nothing to inspire him. But one day a Pentecostal Pastor from the Church of God in Christ taught King a few basic licks on the guitar, and the rest is blues and rock and roll history.
BB King admitted that church and gospel music heavily influenced his taste in music. “I liked blues from the time my mother used to take me to church. I started to listen to gospel music, so I liked that.” He also could not overstate his mom’s influence on his spirituality. “My mother had filled my heart with a love for a compassionate God. Gospel songs sang of that love. And, God knows, I loved singing gospel,” said King.
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That compassion he felt for God translated to how he acted toward others. “I can’t think of anyone I’ve mistreated. I’ve always thought that I am my brother’s keeper. And I believe there’s a ‘great spirit’ that takes care of all of us.”
He appreciated that “church was a wonderful meeting place. It seemed safe and calm. People felt friendly and blessed; in church you could extend your hand and enjoy a fellowship of the spirit.”
BB King has passed on, but his legendary gospel- and church-inspired blues music will live on forever.