As you’ve probably heard by now, B.B. King passed away in his sleep last night at the age of 89. Though not a native Memphian, King was as well known and successful an emissary as the Bluff City has ever had. One of the so-called “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar” (alongside Albert King and Freddie King), B.B. King was for many the very embodiment of blues music; his contribution to the style can simply not be overstated.
After discovering that he could earn more than double the amount he was paid growing cotton by playing in clubs, Riley B. King moved from Itta Bena, Mississippi to Memphis. In 1949, King became a regular DJ on WDIA, where he first became known as the Beale Street Blues Boy (eventually shortened to Blues Boy, or B.B.). “Three O’Clock Blues” wasn’t his first recording, but it was the first to find widespread success. Soon after King was touring seemingly non-stop, regularly playing between 200 and 300 shows a year, even into his 80s. His greatest chart success came in 1969 with “The Thrill is Gone”, though he also had hits in the 1990s and 2000s thanks to collaborations with U2 and Eric Clapton.
Incredibly prolific during his 66 years in the music industry, King recorded over 40 studio albums and 17 live albums, including 1965’s famous Live at the Regal (1971’s Live at Cook County Jail is a personal favorite). In 2006, President Bush awarded King the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Memphis and blues fans the world over will always remember King and his contributions to not just the blues, but the music industry at large. Our thoughts go out to his family members.
This Thursday, April 23rd, the Memphis & Shelby County Room will host Dr. David Evans as he discusses the rebirth of Memphis blues, including the revival of Beale St., the rise of Memphis in May, and the creation of the Center for Southern Folklore. Recently featured on the Memphis Room Music Show podcast, Dr. Evans is an anthromusicologist and professor of music at the University of Memphis. He has recorded local blues and gospel artists for the University’s High Water Records label since 1979.
Dr. Evans will be speaking and playing music in the Memphis Room starting at 6pm.
In this episode, Dr. David Evans sits down with us to discuss the creation and history of the University of Memphis’ High Water Records. Since 1979 Dr. Evans has been recording local and regional blues, jazz, and gospel artists for the label. Listen as we discuss his personal interest in blues music, play some tracks, and discuss the importance of preservation in the digital era.
After you listen, be sure and check out our Spotify playlist of music discussed in the show. Additionally, Dr. Evans will be giving a presentation in the Memphis Room on April 23rd at 6pm. Dr. Evans will be playing music and discussing the revitalization of blues music in Memphis during the 1980s.
Joe Lowry has donated a small collection of 70 photographs that feature some incredible aerial shots of Memphis. A label on the box suggested that these photos were shot by the Secret Service in preparation for a visit from President Nixon in 1968. Actually, the photos date to about 10 years later, and it is very likely that they were shot in preparation for President Carter’s visit to Memphis in December of 1978 for the Democratic Midterm Convention. Included in the images are numerous shots of the interior and exterior of Cook Convention Center, where the convention was held, and photos of the Holiday Inn Rivermont, where the President and First Lady spent the night.
Take a look at the photos and you’ll be able to see some pretty great views of Memphis as it was growing and changing.
There are a couple of very striking images of downtown that show the immediate aftereffects of urban renewal:
Or, check out Poplar and Park near St. Francis Hospital:
Several photos cover the Medical District. Here is Baptist Hospital with its very visible helipad:
There are even a few color photos to round out the collection.
Enjoy! And thank you, Joe!
Check out the first episode of our new podcast – the Memphis Room Music Show. Eldon “Chip” Holliday has been hard at work creating a show that will allow everyone to get to know more about Memphis’ musical heritage. The first episode is all about the history of the Memphis Jug Band, and several of their tracks are included.
After you’ve listened to the show, be sure to check out the Spotify playlist of music mentioned in the episode and a bibliography of bonus materials related to the episode.
Many thanks to Gil Worth at OAM Audio for production assistance.