Riley B. King, aka B.B. King, known for his hits My Lucille, Sweet Little Angel and Rock Me Baby, died in his sleep in Las Vegas. He was 89.
His daughter, Patty King, confirmed he died after announcing that he was in home hospice care after suffering from dehydration two weeks ago.
Born in Mississippi, King began performing in the 1940s, and went on to influence a whole generation of musicians from Eric Clapton to U2.
Once ranked as the third greatest guitarist of all time, he had been suffering ill health in recent months due to complications with diabetes.
King’s enduring legacy came from his refusal to slow down even after cementing his status as an American music icon.
During the mid-1950’s King first named his beloved guitar Lucille. King was performing at a dance in Twist, Arkansas, when a few fans became unruly and started a fire. King ran out, forgetting his guitar, and risked his life to go back and get it. He later found out that two men fighting over a woman named Lucille knocked over a kerosene heater that started the fire. He named the guitar Lucille, “to remind myself never to do anything that foolish.”
King has used various models of Gibson guitars over the years and named them each Lucille. In the 1980s, Gibson officially dropped the model number ES-355 on the guitar King used and it became a custom-made signature model named Lucille, manufactured exclusively for the “King of the Blues.”
Even with a long list of honors to his name — Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Presidential Medal of Freedom — he maintained a relentless touring schedule well into his 80s.
Fellow musicians paid tribute to King including blues guitarist Buddy Guy, who often played with him.
“BB King was the greatest guy I ever met,” he wrote on Instagram.
“The tone he got out of that guitar, the way he shook his left wrist, the way he squeezed the strings… man, he came out with that and it was all new to whole guitar playin’ world.
“He could play so smooth, he didn’t have to put on a show. The way BB did it is the way we all do it now. He was my best friend and father to us all.”