As blues royalty and one of the 20th century’s most influential musicians, B.B. King (1925-2015) 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. Not only does the author show King at his highest moments—winning multiple Grammys and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, recording his most-acclaimed albums, opening the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi—but also his lowest, including his final days, when he was bedridden and suffering from complications of his chronic diabetes. It’s a magnificent tale that de Visé reconstructs mostly in King’s own words, culled from his memoir and the hundreds of interviews he gave throughout his career. However, it is often when the author writes as an outsider about King’s life that the most poignant revelations come. Though King famously cultivated the belief that he had fathered 15 children, he was believed to be sterile. Almost as famously, King would rarely address racial injustice even though it affected him and his career deeply. De Visé, who lays out one indignity after another for King and his band because they were Black, wonders if “King’s anger remained deep inside, concealed behind the expressive eyes and the ancient stutter, where perhaps it had always lived.” As King himself once wrote, “Moving on is my method of healing my hurt and, man, I’ve been moving on all my life.” What de Visé does best, though, is assess the musical magic that King and his beloved guitar, Lucille, made and how their unique sound combination influenced blues and rock stars for generations.
The thrill is here, as B.B. King finally gets his due in this first meticulous account of his historic life.
Praise for King of the Blues:
Named a Best Arts Book of the Year by Library Journal
“A fluent read of a major artist’s evolution . . . de Visé has dived deeply into the world of an American master and discovered that the guitar god was mortal after all . . . The author is at his best when homed in on King’s sound.”—Preston Lauterbach, Wall Street Journal
“A comprehensive and unfiltered look at the complex musical giant . . . De Visé tells King’s fascinating story with great detail and fluid prose . . . King of the Blues helps encapsulate his incredible life and his enduring legacy.”—Jackson Clarion Ledger
“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
“A full-blown hero’s journey . . . Filled with interviews with King’s relatives, band members and managers, the resulting biography feels at once intimate and encyclopedic, offering a full picture of the man behind the myth.”—AARP
“B.B. King, who died in 2015 at age 89, gets the royal treatment from his biographer, and rightly so . . . Essential.”—David Wesley Williams, Chapter 16
“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 . . . Interweaves tales of American history, pop culture, racial relations, music theory, and much more to fully demonstrate King’s significance . . . Magnificent . . . The thrill is here, as B.B. King finally gets his due in this first meticulous account of his historic life.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist De Visé amply demonstrates his masterful storytelling and research skills in this definitive look at legendary blues musician B.B. King . . . An intimate portrait of a cultural luminary . . . Even readers who aren’t fans of the blues will be engrossed by this nuanced look at an American icon.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“The definitive biography of blues master Riley ‘B.B.’ King . . . Engaging. 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)
“De Visé tells King’s story in the context of his swirling times, intertwined with profiles of historic people and events musical and otherwise. A fine portrait of an iconic musician.”—Booklist (starred review)
“B.B. King was a marvelous man and an international ambassador for the blues. King of the Blues 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, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller
“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
“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
“Mr. de Visé meticulously dives deep into why 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
“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
“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
“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
“Extremely thoughtful, thorough and insightful.”—David Ritz, biographical collaborator with B.B. King, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin, and biographer of Marvin Gaye