The passing of B.B. King last night has put me in a reflective mood. I’ve never been the biggest B.B. King fan, but I enjoyed his music, respected his achievements, and recognized him as giant among legends. His influence in undeniable and today’s social media feeds are overflowing with tributes to the man, his music, and his spirit. How did a poor boy born into poverty on a cotton plantation get so far and touch so many? What lessons can be learned from the man born Riley B. King? I’m sure there are many more than what I listed, but these five are what I consider the big ones.
1. Adversity can be overcome
B.B. King was born on a plantation in 1925 Mississippi. He died one of the most respected musicians and people in the world. He shared his story countless times and encouraged young musicians everywhere to keep going. He didn’t let bad circumstances prevent him from succeeding. Neither should you.
2. Music is to be shared
Over the course of his career, B.B. King shared his stage with a myriad of performers from all genres of music. He sang with a diverse array people from jazz songstress Diane Schuur to the ultimate Country Outlaw Willie Nelson. One of his biggest hits was performed with a little band out of Ireland called U2. B.B. welcomed all comers to the Blues and was welcomed in turn by everyone else.
3. One note matters
Most guitarists across all musical genres count B.B. King as an influence. All Blues guitarists were influenced by B.B. whether they know it or not. B.B. King is widely regarded as THE Blues guitarist. He didn’t build that reputation on flash. His guitar playing is simple at its core, but ultimately impossible to imitate because so much of B.B.’s spirit went into his playing. He could put more emotion in one note than most players put in 100. They know it, too.
4. Dedicate yourself to your craft and the rewards will follow
B.B. King played 250-300 shows a year for most of his career. Sometimes more. He said he loved the road and spent his life traveling from town to town taking Blues to the people. He spent his life honing his skills, building great bands, and perfecting his shows. His dedication and attention to details set him above the crowd, earned him a satellite radio channel, several TV specials and appearances, myriad awards, and millions of fans.
5. A little humility will get you everywhere
I’ve never heard or seen in print a mean word about B.B. King. Likewise I’ve never heard of B.B. King being anything but humble. His positivity, humility, and welcoming attitude made him not just the King of the Blues but a Good Will Ambassador around the world. He didn’t get that far by being an asshole.
The video below is one of hundreds of examples of B.B. King sharing his stage and music. This time he brings out Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Eric Johnson, and Gregg Allman. As Bandleader and Ringmaster, B.B. makes sure everyone gets the spotlight. Sharing, humility, and good humor are all here. Thank you for showing us the way Mr. King.