Grammy-winning guitar legend B.B. King passed away on Thursday at the age of 89. But it didn’t take his passing for other artists to pay homage to a man whose guitar was named Lucille and whose playing style was often described as wailing, crying, or singing. He merged Delta blues and Chicago blues with a pop sensibility and made his name playing nearly every night of the year from the 1940s into his 80s.
A 2003 poem by Rachel M. Harper in Prairie Schooner called “B.B. King: History of the Blues” is a short poem with some punch that, like much of the writing we’ve seen since his death, can’t help but use reverential language in reference to not the man, but his guitar. “He plucks the moonlight,” it says.
Another poem takes an entirely different angle, using B.B. King as a part of a legacy of R&B music that was appropriated by white artists like Wayne Cochran, Buddy Holly, and, in particular, Elvis Presley. Charlie R. Braxton’s “The King Uncrowned” (originally published in Black American Literature Forum) starts with “a statue / of Elvis” and finds its way to assert that the “blues is real / & ROCK & ROLL IS A RIPOFF!”
While the poem is sarcastically referring to the country’s reaction to the death of Elvis, the outpouring of stories and memories following B.B. King’s death makes me think the line from Braxton’s poem could be appropriated here for King: “america weeps the blues big time.”
Watch the New York Times tribute to B.B. King below, with commentary from Times music critic Jon Pareles.