The audience stood, clapping their hands wildly as he walked onstage and bowed to them. Quietly, he took a seat, picked up his guitar and began to play as the people sat back down.
Riley B. King, known to his fans as B.B. King, took his 80th birthday year-long world tour to the College as part of Celebration of the Arts. The blues legend, who has released over 50 albums and won several Grammy Awards, brought his unique style to the Kendall Hall stage on April 9.
“I never thought of being a blues singer,” King said. “My pastor played guitar and I wanted to play like he did. I would always play gospel songs, but they’d ask for blues and I’d get a tip. Those hearing gospel songs didn’t tip.”
King began recording in the 1940s in Tennessee, where, according to his Web site, every good southern musician began a career. He has since been inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In 1987, he received the NARAS’ Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award.
According to Tim Asher, associate director of Student Activities, every year students, faculty and staff brainstorm different artists that they want to see performing for Celebration of the Arts. This year, King was at the top of the list.
“When King came out, you could see what a high quality performer he is,” Asher said. “It seemed like the audience really enjoyed the show.”
Although the band does not usually play college shows, Asher and the rest of the committee were able to convince them that they could present a high quality show, up to the standards at which King and his band normally play.
During his performance at the College, King swayed along with the music as he played several songs from his prior albums as well as from an upcoming one. But his performance was also characterized by the time he spent speaking with the audience about his songs and giving advice about women.
He performed a song entitled “Ain’t That Just Like a Woman” but, before singing it, he requested the permission of the women for the men to repeat the title lyric after him.
King later admitted to the audience that he was picking on the ladies too much and he made it up to them with an apology and a quick rendition of “You Are My Sunshine” on his guitar.
In the beginning of the concert, the B.B. King Blues Band played instrumentals for the audience. From the trumpet and flute to the guitar and percussion, the band played together and as soloists with such talent and skill, ending to thunderous applause from the audience.
Throughout his performance, King joked with the audience and had everyone singing along during the choruses and participating in the performance.
During one particular song, he stopped in the middle and began to accuse one of his band members of rushing. Bass player Reggie Richardson was singled out at as the culprit, being named “The Pretty One” by his colleagues. To this, King replied, “Ain’t none of y’all prettier than me,” garnering laughter from the crowd.
After also accusing the drummer of rushing, King proceeded to ask one member of the audience who was the guilty one. She immediately answered that the drummer was at fault and King told everyone, “You know, George Bush could really use someone like her.”
King not only acknowledged his audience, he also kept in contact with his band throughout the concert, giving a thumbs up to the players after each song.
Overall, he told the audience he loved playing for young people. “Being around young people, I forget I’m 79 until I have to walk up some stairs,” he said.
King also had the chance to meet a young person in the opening act, the Eric Steckel Band. Fourteen-year-old Steckel opened the show with a few songs from his album, including one that supposedly gave answers to what people say to kids. He also played a song that he introduced as being “a funky thing called ‘Jaywalking.'”
King has been in the music business for over 50 years, a milestone not accomplished by many musicians. “I like talking to people and I like making them smile,” he said. “I wouldn’t change most of my life.”
According to King, the only aspect of his life he would change is his education. He stopped school after 10th grade, but if he could, he would “finish high school, go to college, wouldn’t get married until after 40” and he would major in computers and minor in music. Now, he said, computers play such a huge role in life and it would be good to know all about them.
Those in attendance seemed pleased with the performance. “I’ve heard of (B.B. King) and I’ve liked some of his music. I like Jazz/Blues in general so when I heard he was coming, I couldn’t miss an opportunity like this,” Sean Ryan, junior music education major, said. “Music like this is very important. Too many people nowadays listen to music with no real drive behind it, but B.B. King sings how it is.”
“I don’t go to many concerts, but we don’t get someone like B.B. King to come to the College very often, so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity,” Rachel Levy, senior political science major, said. “I had an incredible time at the concert, and I am so glad I went.”
The audience agreed that B.B. King lived up to their expectations. “He had such a bold presence on the stage, yet calm and casual, a great characteristic of a musician,” Ryan said.
King has had many opportunities throughout his life, meeting fans and other people, including several presidents and one man he respected more than others.
“Meeting the Pope was one of the highlights (of my life),” he said.
King had the opportunity to meet the Pope after doing a show for the Catholic Church. “I thought of him as we think of Lady Di,” he said.
According to King, he could have talked and sang with the audience all night. “Whatever you do, (if) you’re happy, do it,” he said. “If I can make it, they can do it better.”