King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King

King of the Blues: The Rise and Reign of B.B. King
Published by Atlantic Monthly Press
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“No one worked harder than B.B. No one inspired more up-and-coming artists. No one did more to spread the gospel of the blues.” —President Barack Obama

“He is without a doubt the most important artist the blues has ever produced.” —Eric Clapton

Riley “Blues Boy” King (1925-2015) was born into deep poverty in Jim Crow Mississippi. Wrenched away from his sharecropper father, B.B. lost his mother at age ten, leaving him more or less alone. Music became his emancipation from exhausting toil in the fields. Inspired by a local minister’s guitar and by the records of Blind Lemon Jefferson and T-Bone Walker, encouraged by his cousin, the established blues man Bukka White, B.B. taught his guitar to sing in the unique solo style that, along with his relentless work ethic and humanity, became his trademark. In turn, generations of artists claimed him as inspiration, from Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton to Carlos Santana and the Edge.

King of the Blues presents the vibrant life and times of a trailblazing giant. Witness to dark prejudice and lynching in his youth, B.B. performed incessantly (some 15,000 concerts in 90 countries over nearly 60 years)—in some real way his means of escaping his past. Several of his concerts, including his landmark gig at Chicago’s Cook County Jail, endure in legend to this day. His career roller-coasted between adulation and relegation, but he always rose back up. At the same time, his story reveals the many ways record companies took advantage of artists, especially those of color.

Daniel de Visé has interviewed almost every surviving member of B.B. King’s inner circle—family, band members, retainers, managers, and more—and their voices and memories enrich and enliven the life of this Mississippi blues titan, whom his contemporary Bobby “Blue” Bland simply called “the man.”

Advance praise for King of the Blues:

"As blues royalty and one of the 20th century’s most influential musicians, B.B. King has long deserved a well-considered biography that places his achievements in a cultural and historical context. This is it. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist de Visé deftly interweaves tales of American history, pop culture, racial relations, music theory, and much more to fully demonstrate King’s significance. . . . The thrill is here, as B.B. King finally gets his due in this first meticulous account of his historic life." -- Kirkus (starred review)

"Author and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist de Visé has written the definitive biography of blues master Riley “B. B.” King. . . . The book expertly interweaves King’s music career into the U.S. social fabric, especially the civil rights movement. With this fast-moving, informative, evenhanded, and exhaustive biography, de Visé vividly captures King’s life." -- Library Journal (starred review)

"B.B. King was a marvelous man and an international ambassador for the blues. King of the Blues by Daniel de Visé tells the extraordinary story of his life in great detail, and a wonderful story it is. A fitting tribute to a great artist." -- John Landis, director of The Blues Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places, Michael Jackson's Thriller and many more

"[T]racks B.B. King's multifarious career with such efficiency and clarity that surely little of biographical significance remains to be said." -- Mojo

“Like hopping onboard B.B.’s tour bus for a ride straight to the heart of the blues. Told me about the B.B. I knew and a few other B.B.’s as well. I loved them all.” -- Shemekia Copeland, three-time Grammy-nominated Alligator Records recording artist

"De Visé sets up King’s life like a classic composition: He establishes themes and returns to them while pushing the story from its intro to its coda. The book adds flesh and blood to the standard cultural codification of King as icon. It presents a career full of ambition and a life informed by longing, with triumphs and setbacks, discrimination and canonization." -- Houston Chronicle

"B.B. King is one of, if not the best of, America’s treasured heroes! Mr. de Vis­é meticulously dives deep into why, what and how young Riley, who graced this planet from a world of extreme complications, was able through his talent, relentless drive and humility, to rise to the deserved title 'King of the Blues.' Get your records out and enjoy the read. I did!!!" -- Robert Cray, five-time Grammy-winning blues guitarist and singer-songwriter

"For now, at least, De Visé’s exhaustive biography is our most authoritative one." -- No Depression, Fall Music Books to Look Forward To

"Extremely thoughtful, thorough and insightful." -- David Ritz, biographical collaborator with B.B. King, Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin and biographer of Marvin Gaye

“The name B.B. King now resonates with longevity amongst blues lovers and music enthusiasts alike.  With more than six decades of noteworthy expressions of a great American art form, B.B. King’s guitar playing and singing hold a strong place with an unmistakable sound of his professional and effervescent personality.  Get a head start within these fine pages for an intimate trip with B.B. King’s lifetime attachment to creativity.  B.B. is truly King of the Blues, oh yeah!" -- Billy F. Gibbons, guitarist and singer, ZZ Top

“B.B. King was the stone truth, the man who took down home uptown and, yes, the undisputed king of the blues. This, his first full and authoritative biography, is both right on time and long overdue. Dan de Visé has done a solid for music lovers everywhere.” -- Leonard Pitts, Jr., Pulitzer prizewinning national columnist and author

"B.B. King, one of the great bluesmen of all time. Can any other person hold one note on the guitar and make it say so much? Daniel de Visé's book on B.B. King is a great read." -- Joan Armatrading, three-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and guitarist

"De Visé writes beautifully. His command of narrative is compelling. The level of detail he amassed is awesome." -- Charles Sawyer, author of The Arrival of B.B. King: The Authorized Biography

Featured in Our Bumper Crop of Best Books for Autumn, The Irish Independent


496 pages | 978-0802158055 | October 5, 2021