The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The student news site of Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Illinois

The Independent

The Wizard of Oz: Interviews with the Cast
Olivia Abbott and Aniyah NelsonApril 7, 2024


B.B King’s Life and Legacy

B.B. King’s recognizable guitar – Illustrator: Amelia Buhle

For hundreds of years, African Americans have been shaping the United States’ culture. Black History Month is in full swing, and with some politicians deciding that African American history “does not have significant educational value,” it is imperative, now more than ever, to honor and recognize the Black Americans who have shaped our country. The post-Civil War period of Reconstruction marked a revolution in African American history. Black Americans had been freed from the inhumane binds of slavery, only to be kept in servitude by discriminatory practices and policies, such as the notion of being “separate but equal.”

 Blues music arose during this era to express the hardships that African Americans were facing and to inspire hope for a better future. B.B. King was at the forefront of the modern blues scene that preceded the civil rights movement of the 1960s. B.B. King used his music to contribute to and share a united and unique African American identity as well as spur the civil rights movement forward.

B.B. King, born as Riley B. King, was raised on a plantation in Indianola, Mississippi in 1925. During his childhood, King and his father worked on a cotton plantation. This background represents a very common reality for many African Americans of the time, which included dependency on rich white plantation owners through tenant farming and sharecropping. King shared that “the earliest sound of blues that I can remember was in the fields while people would be pickin’ cotton or choppin’ or somethin’.” While working, blues music was used to build a community which made hardships more bearable. 

As a young adult, B.B. King played small shows on street corners and local venues and eventually started recording albums in the early 1940s in the largest music city at the time, Memphis, Tennessee. B.B. King claims that he was driven to Memphis because of the racial violence and economic disparity of the Mississippi region.  As King described, “I saw lynchings, seen people hanging, seen people drug through the streets.” 

B.B. King later toured around the country and the world, sharing this music and message with others. King played at over 250 concerts a year throughout the world and had a plethora of extremely successful songs, but his breakthrough was “Three O’Clock Blues.” Later in his prosperous career, B.B. King was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. 

He earned a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1987 and was extolled as “one of the most original and soulful of all blues guitarists and singers, whose compelling style and devotion to musical truth have inspired so many budding performers, both here and abroad, to celebrate the blues.” In the early 1990s, King received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George Bush for his accomplishments in music and civil rights.

Sadly, in 2015, after countless years of performing the blues, B.B. King passed away at 89 years old. B.B. King is highly regarded as the King of Blues for his influential take on the genre, but the majority of his impact goes beyond the realm of music. When reflecting on B.B. King’s death and blues music, former United States President Barack Obama said, “This is music with humble beginnings: roots in slavery and segregation, a society that rarely treated Black Americans with the dignity and respect that they deserved. The blues bore witness to these hard times. And like so many of the men and women who sang them, the blues refused to be limited by the circumstances of birth… It helped lay the foundation for rock and roll and R&B and hip-hop. It inspired artists and audiences around the world…The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend.”

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About the Contributor
Erika Hartman
Erika Hartman, In-Depth Writer
My name is Erika Hartman, and I am a junior writing for In-depth. I am in several clubs at GBS including Student Council and Earth Action Network. I play basketball and tennis and love to read and bake in my spare time!

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