Smithsonian Collections

B. B. King

Image for B. B. King
Data Source
National Portrait Gallery
Exhibition Label
In Memoriam
Born Itta Bena, Mississippi
Long acknowledged as the undisputed “King of the Blues,” guitarist B. B. King was a consummate musi­cian whose “vocal-like string bends” and distinctive left-hand vibrato influenced generations of blues players, as well as rock guitarists such as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, and Carlos Santana. Born Riley B. King, he acquired the moniker B. B.—short for Blues Boy—while performing on a West Memphis radio station in the late 1940s. After his rendition of “Three O’Clock Blues” claimed the number-one spot on the R&B charts in 1951, King and his band embarked on their first nationwide tour. Thereafter, he main­tained an ambitious touring schedule, much to the delight of his legions of fans. In 1970 King scored a huge crossover hit with “The Thrill Is Gone,” which climbed both the R&B and pop music charts to earn him the first of fifteen Grammy Awards—more than any other blues artist.
Chuck Stewart, 21 May 1927 - 20 Jan 2017
B. B. King, 16 Sep 1925 - 14 May 2015
June 19, 1992
Credit Line
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution
Gelatin silver print
Image/Sheet: 27.9 × 35.5 cm (11 × 14")
See more items in
National Portrait Gallery Collection
Object number
Equipment\Sound Devices\Microphone
Music\Musical instrument\Guitar
B. B. King: Male
B. B. King: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician
B. B. King: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Guitarist
B. B. King: Performing Arts\Performer\Musician\Singer\Rhythm and Blues
B. B. King: Military\Army
B. B. King: Presidential Medal of Freedom
Restrictions & Rights
©Chuck Stewart