In the past two months America lost two musical giants in Ben E. King and B.B. King, both southern boys who grew up in and under Jim Crow Laws.
I had the good fortune of hearing both of them sing and had a chance to spend some time with Ben E. King during one of the National Newspaper Publishers Conferences when I was conference chair. We talked about his career and of course growing up in North Carolina cultivating tobacco and those silly segregation laws. We laughed as we talked and shared stories of our youth and I admired what he had accomplished with his God given talent to sing and bring joy to so many people.
His most popular song “Stand By Me” will last forever even as his image fades from our memory. I used to dance to his music when he was with the Drifters and then when he went solo.
I am glad to have had the opportunity to meet this fine gentleman from Henderson, North Carolina.
When I became older, Mr. B. B. King became part of my music listening after I came to California. I had heard his song “Sweet Sixteen” many times but paid little attention to him as an artist until his big tune, “The Thrill Is Gone” hit the airways.
During my early teens I spent more time enjoying Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Bo Diddley, Bobby Blue Bland and other great blues singers because of the dancing tempo beat.
B. B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” with its up tempo beat, had a believable story and I was hooked on Mr. King.
Again it was with the National Newspaper Publishers Association that I had my first opportunity to hear him live and dance to his music. My wife and I had a great time enjoying his music. My second opportunity came a few years ago when Dr. Albert Karnig, then President of California State University San Bernardino invited us to attend a B. B. King concert at the university.
Of course when you are with the president you get close and up front seats. You are close enough for B. B. King to see you moving to the music feeling each word even though you are confined to a power chair.
After his performance, I was touched and honored because as he threw out guitar picks to the crowd he made sure I got one by telling people to give one pick to me.
His songs have memorable titles like, “Everybody wants to know why I sing the blues.” I often use his music to get in the mood to write editorials and opinions. When you look at why African Americans feel the way they do about our society, you can understand why we sing the blues about discrimination and unfair treatment and that Black lives matter. Our history is built on 400 years of mistrust and broken promises by our government which is talked about in some blues songs.
“I like to live the love I sing about in my songs every day,” King sang in one of his songs. He was fun loving when he sung and that will be missed by all who ever saw him perform.
I join the many fans and say that with the passing of these two great musicians “The Thrill is Gone” but you must “Stand By Me” as we move on with life. They are gone but not forgotten.