A Mississippi native, Riley B. King was a disc jockey in Memphis, where he picked up the nickname Blues Boy (later shortened to B.B.) and began his recording career in the late 1940s.
B.B. King may be at once the most famous and most taken-for-granted bluesman in pop history. One reason for both titles is familiarity.
Where some classic blues figures (starting with Robert Johnson) died before the start of the rock era, and others (including Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf) enjoyed only limited mainstream success, King has registered dozens of singles on the weekly Top 100 pop charts and has toured so extensively that he always seems to be either in town or on the way. King has also benefited from lots of TV exposure.
Another reason for both the popularity and the fact that he is sometimes less prized by critics than the Johnsons and Wolfs is that his musical style isn't as raw — or pure — as many of his blues rivals'.
Yet King's influence on blues and rock artists has been immense. Some of his hits include '50s R&B piece "Three O'Clock Blues" to 1970's "The Thrill Is Gone" and 1989's U2-assisted "When Love Comes to Town."
From the beginning, King reached out to other musical fields, including jazz and pop, rather than stick to music that is, in the words of rock historian Peter Guralnick, the "product of a local or isolated tradition."
King died May 14, 2015 at his home in Las Vegas. He was 89.