B.B. King became a man at age 9 when his mother died, the Rev. Herron Wilson said at the funeral for the blues legend on Saturday.
The words that King’s mother said to him on her deathbed — to be good, and to do good for others — shaped the path that he followed during a career that lasted nearly 70 years.
“He still maintained the common touch despite his fame,” Wilson told the hundreds of mourners who attended the funeral service in Indianola, Mississippi. “He kept asking, what else can I give to my community.”
It was King’s wish to have his funeral held at the Bell Grove Baptist Church in Indianola, where King spent his teenage years working in cotton fields as a poverty-stricken youth in the Mississippi Delta.
King not only strummed his chords into the hearts of millions, but inspired generations of blues and rock musicians.
King, who died on May 14, often said he had just one woman in his life: his guitar, Lucille.
But by his own estimate he had 15 children by 15 women, none of them his wives. He was also married twice, but neither marriage produced children.
The musician’s passion went much further, Wilson told the congregation.
He recalled a lawn party in Indianola where many black and white couples were invited, and King was the center of attention. He was the catalyst for bridging the social gap between races, Wilson said.
King drew crowds and cheers, even in death.
A week after his death, King received cheers and a standing ovation at a memorial service held in Las Vegas.
The celebration of his life continued with a street procession in Memphis, Tennessee, where fans covered Beale Street, a street synonymous with American blues music.
That’s where a young Riley King performed and gained his beloved nickname, Beale Street “Blues Boy,” later shortened to B.B.
King was 89 when he died. His doctor listed the cause of death as multi-infarct dementia, which is caused by a series of small strokes.
Charlie Sawyer, who wrote a biography of King, described the funeral in Indianola as either “the return of B.B. King or the departure of B.B. King.”
King’s assistant for the last 10 years, Byron Johnson, told the congregation Saturday that in that time there was never an uncaring word shared between them.
His best memory with King, Johnson said, was enjoying frozen yogurt together, the music icon unrecognized, sharing stories.
“It’s been an all-day, everyday, non-ending 10-year blast,” he said.