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B.B. King's life, legacy remembered in Memphis

Published: May. 15, 2015 at 1:09 PM CDT|Updated: May. 16, 2015 at 3:42 PM CDT
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(Source: WMC Action News 5)
(Source: WMC Action News 5)

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - He hitched a ride to Memphis in the late 1940s when he was barely 20 years old. It was in Memphis that he became known as the Beale Street Blues Boy, then later, the Blues Boy. He shortened it to B.B. King and will forever be known as "King of the Blues."

B.B. King fans around the world are now singing the blues as they wake up to the news of his death.

The blues legend spent the last year or so of his life under hospice care in his Las Vegas home. He died Thursday night at 89 years old.

City of Memphis celebrated his legacy, declaring May 12 as B.B. King Day.

"I'm so sad to hear about B.B.," said a Beale Street patron. "I mean, I'm glad that I'm down on Beale Street tonight to, like, celebrate his life and his legend."

"I want to pay my respects to him and his family and tell them that I love them," said another fan.

According to King's granddaughter, there had been recent clashes between his family and his management team over his health care. Family said King had not been the same since falling ill during a tour in October 2014.

Beale Street is home to blue music and the B.B King legacy.

All day fans were seen stopping by to pay tribute by leaving flowers at his brass notes.

"It's kind of overwhelming really because I really can't believe he's gone," said fan Reginald King. "He left a great legacy."

"He's a legend, he's not going anywhere," said fan Charlie Weston.

B.B. King left his stamp on the Bluff City and, of course, the story of the love affair he had with his guitars, which he named Lucille, became legend in the city where Gibson Guitars are made.

The story of Lucille started in the mid-1950s. He was playing a show in Twist, Arkansas when the building went up in flames. Once outside, B.B. King realized his beloved $30 Gibson guitar was still inside. He ran back into the building to rescue the guitar, narrowly escaping death. He later learned that the fire started during an argument between two men over a woman named "Lucille."

B.B. King named his black Gibson after the woman who sparked the fight. He gave every guitar he owned after that the same name.

"I just want to say thank you for the music you gave us. We love you, we miss you, and I know Heaven is singing a song right now," Eric Blake said outside of B.B. King's nightclub after learning of his death.

King is still an icon in the music community, with inductions into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and he even has a brass note on Beale Street.

For Ruby Wilson, "Queen of Beale Street," the loss of a friend is both heartbreaking and inspiring.

"It's a real downer and I'm not the same because I lost my best friend," said Wilson.

If anyone knew B.B. King, it was the Queen of Beale Street.

"A legend in my own time and he helped me come a long ways from where I was to where I am now," she said. "He built me up when I was weak and helped me do a whole bunch of things."

She credits her success to B.B.'s support, saying she traveled the globe seven times because of his name.

But beyond the mentoring was amazing musical talent and the mark he left on Memphis, Wilson says he was a great person.

"B.B. is and always will be a wonderful man first and then a great musician and beautiful entertainer who made the world feel good," Wilson explained.

Wilson knows there is still much work to be done to keep his memory alive.

"I know he's watching down here so we have to make him proud. And keep his legacy going. And the only way we can do that is to keep singing the blues," she reflected. "I just want to say, 'thank you B.B. and rest in peace.'"

Since he was the "Beale Street Blues Boy," many Memphians have met B.B. King, enjoyed his music live, and share wonderful memories with the legendary blues musician.

We would love to hear your stories and see your photos as we all remember the legacy of B.B. King.

Send your photos to my5@wmctv.com or share your story with us on the WMC Action News 5 Facebook page.

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