BB King, whose scorching guitar licks and heartfelt vocals made him the idol of generations of musicians and fans while earning him the nickname "King of the Blues," died late last night at home in Las Vegas. He was 89. His attorney tells the AP that King died peacefully in his sleep. Although he had continued to perform well into his 80s, the 15-time Grammy winner suffered from diabetes and had been in declining health during the past year. He collapsed during a concert in Chicago last October, later blaming dehydration and exhaustion. For most of a career spanning nearly 70 years and more than 50 albums, King was not only the undisputed king of the blues, but a mentor to scores of guitarists, including Eric Clapton, Otis Rush, Jimi Hendrix, and Keith Richards.
A preacher uncle taught him to play, and he honed his technique in abject poverty in the Mississippi Delta, the birthplace of the blues. "I've always tried to defend the idea that the blues doesn't have to be sung by a person who comes from Mississippi, as I did," he said in 1988. "People all over the world have problems. And as long as people have problems, the blues can never die." Still, the Delta's influence was undeniable. King began picking cotton on tenant farms around Indianola, Miss., before he was a teenager and was still working off sharecropping debts after he got out of the Army during World War II. "He goes back far enough to remember the sound of field hollers and the cornerstone blues figures, like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson," ZZ Top guitarist Billy Gibbons once told Rolling Stone. (Read more BB King stories.)