Hun­dreds say farewell to blues icon B.B. King


Hun­dreds of peo­ple filled a church in the Mis­sis­sippi Delta for the fu­neral Satur­day of B.B. King, who rose from share­crop­per in the area’s flat cot­ton fields to world­wide fame as a blues singer and gui­tarist who in­flu­enced gen­er­a­tions of en­ter­tain­ers.

King was 89 when he died May 14 in Las Ve­gas. At his re­quest, his body was re­turned to his na­tive Mis­sis­sippi for a fi­nal home­com­ing.

Amid rain, about 500 peo­ple filled the sanc­tu­ary of Bell Grove Mis­sion­ary Bap­tist Church, a red brick struc­ture that sits in a field off of B.B. King Road in In­di­anola. More than 200 peo­ple who couldn’t get into the sanc­tu­ary watched a live broad­cast of the fu­neral in the church’s fel­low­ship hall, many wav­ing hand-held fans with a blackand-white photo of a smil­ing King hug­ging his black elec­tric gui­tar, Lu­cille.

At the be­gin­ning of the ser­vice, fam­ily mem­bers filed past King’s open cas­ket, which had an im­age of Lu­cille em­broi­dered on the padded white cloth in­side the lid. Later, the cas­ket was closed and cov­ered with a large ar­range­ment of red roses.

The Rev. Her­ron Wil­son, who de­liv­ered the eu­logy, said King proved that peo­ple can tri­umph over dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.

Coun­try singer Marty Stu­art said King cre­ated a mu­si­cal le­gacy for the home state they share.

On the way into the church, Mis­sis­sippi Gov. Phil Bryant re­called spend­ing time with King in the blues­man’s tour bus be­fore a con­cert last year in In­di­anola.

Bryant said King was proud of be­ing from Mis­sis­sippi.

Not­ing the thou­sands of peo­ple who came to In­di­anola for the public view­ing Fri­day and fu­neral Satur­day, Bryant said: “He would have loved to know that one more time he’s help­ing the Mis­sis­sippi Delta.”

Tony Cole­man, King’s drum­mer for 37 years, said King never re­ferred to him­self as King of the Blues, an hon­orary ti­tle oth­ers used.

A chil­dren’s choir based at the B.B. King Mu­seum clapped as they sang gospel songs.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama sent a let­ter to be read aloud by Demo­cratic U.S. Rep. Ben­nie Thomp­son of Mis­sis­sippi, a friend of King.

“The blues has lost its king and Amer­i­can has lost a leg­end,” Obama said. “No one worked harder than B.B. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues. He gets stuck in your head, he gets you mov­ing, he gets you do­ing the things you prob­a­bly shouldn’t do — but will al­ways be glad you did.

“B.B. may be gone but that thrill will be with us for­ever. And there’s go­ing to be one killer blues ses­sion in heaven tonight,” Obama said.

More than 4,000 peo­ple viewed his open cas­ket Fri­day at the B.B. King Mu­seum and Delta In­ter­pre­tive Cen­ter in In­di­anola.

One of his sons, Wil­lie King of Chicago, said his fa­ther taught him to re­spond with love when oth­ers are an­gry.

King’s public view­ing Fri­day was al­most like a state fu­neral, with Mis­sis­sippi High­way Pa­trol of­fi­cers in dress uni­form stand­ing at each end of the cas­ket. Two of his black elec­tric gui­tars stood among sprays of flow­ers.

Blues gui­tarist Buddy Guy, 78, said he al­ways in­tended to tour the B.B. King Mu­seum while its name­sake, his long­time friend, was still living.


Carver Ran­dle, a long time friend and at­tor­ney ad­dresses mourn­ers dur­ing the fu­neral ser­vice for blues leg­end Ri­ley “B.B.” King at Bell Grove M.B. Church in In­di­anola, Mis­sis­sippi, Satur­day, May 30.

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