By now I am sure that most of our readers have learned that the great Riley B. King, better known as B. B. King, died at his home in Las Vegas May 14, 2015 at the age of 89. At the Southern Follklife Collection, King’s presence is never far. Folklorist and great friend of the SFC, Bill Ferris, worked alongside B. B. King for many years and documented the time they spent together extensively. We couldn’t help but share the following letter where King writes to his friend Bill about his 1974 visit to Yale University, storing the memories of his visit “in the archives of my heart.”
There is far too much content in the William R. Ferris Collection (20367) to share in a blog post, but we welcome all of you to visit The Wilson Library to see more and perhaps more importantly, hear more. Besides the more than 200 sound recordings featuring King in the SFC, there are also numerous field recordings, both interview and performance, as well as film and video documenting King’s life and career. Listen to B. B. King speaking to a class at Yale in 1974:
All of the images in this post except for the commercial sound recordings come from the Ferris collection. Already the internet is full of wonderful images, songs, and remembrances of King. Taken as a whole, they serve as a powerful reminder of King’s life and career, demonstrating the massive impact he has had on American music and culture while simultaneously pointing at the legacy that will reverberate far into the future.
We could not avoid posting some images of King in performance, cradling Lucille, King’s face twisted with emotion, images so powerful I can hear the music in my head just by looking.
But as with so many persons whose lives and works are documented and preserved in cultural institutions like the SFC, what stands out are the candid moments: quiet times between sets, casual conversations with fans (be they prison guards or inmates at Parchman Penitentiary), relaxing at home, or meetings with students.
Thanks to Bill and many others who have shared their stories of King over the years, we’ve learned it’s these in-between moments that reflect the humble spirit, open heart and inimitable kindness that King demonstrated every day of his life. It was his love of humanity and love of life that fueled his music and we are all better because he so willingly shared his gifts around the world.
We extend our heartfelt condolences to King’s family, friends and fans. The King is dead. Long live the King.
Rest easy, B.