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B.B. King Museum

American music has its roots in the Mississippi Delta, where the Blues was born and many of the greats could once be found playing music in juke joints and local watering holes. When you think about the Blues, you hear a wailing guitar and lyrics that connect with your soul, and then you think about the illustrious B.B. King.

B.B. King was born Riley B. King in Berclair, Mississippi, just outside the small Delta town of Itta Bena near Indianola, in 1925. He grew up as many in the Delta did, working on farm land and in a cotton gin in Indianola. He sang church songs with the Famous St. John Gospel Singers, and in his spare time, he played his guitar and sang on the street corner. He found Saturday nights to be more lucrative, and with the dimes that came his way he used to watch mini feature flicks called Soundies or Panorams, one of his favorite childhood pastimes. He left Indianola for Memphis, Tennessee in 1947 to pursue a career in music. He got a start at R&B radio’s WDIA station; here he got his name Beale Street Blues Boy, later shortened to B.B. King. He began to play clubs, to travel and record, and King hasn’t stopped playing since. At one point in the 1950’s he played more than 300 shows in a single year. His work ethic and dedication to his craft have earned him the respect of his fellow musicians; his talent and stage persona continue to draw crowds the world over; his character, humility and concern for others place him in a class by himself. He has received many awards, including 15 Grammys so far (the latest this year), honorary degrees, and the Polar Music Award, considered the Nobel Prize of music, but he is proudest of the new B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center recently opened in his honor in the place he calls home, Indianola, Mississippi.

The B.B. King Museum was started as part of a grassroots effort to celebrate the cultural heritage of the Mississippi Delta, most notably the Blues, and honor the great “King of the Blues” B.B. King. The Museum opened in September 2008, becoming a focal point of the Mississippi Blues Trail. King endorsed the project early on and contributed many artifacts, including his entire home recording studio which was reconstructed as an exhibit at the Museum. It was his desire for the museum to have a specific focus on education, primarily on the arts as well as the history of the Delta. Artifacts and music from many other artists, such as Little Milton, Robert “Junior” Lockwood and Eric Clapton, are also displayed in the museum; many of those artists played alongside King and credit him with their personal success in the music industry.

When entering the museum, the first stop is the old cotton gin. This gin is where King actually worked as a young man and is the cornerstone of the facility. Next is the theatre, where patrons are introduced to King, his music, his legacy, and his beloved Mississippi Delta, through an award-winning high definition film. The first exhibit hall is the Sense of Place, which immerses the visitor in the sights and sounds of the Delta. The path through the exhibit winds through juke joints, Beale Street, B.B. and the band’s bus on the road, the 60’s, and B.B.’s development into an international icon. Throughout, the emphasis is on the music, including never-before-seen photographs as well as written, audio recorded, and filmed narration that capture specific events in King’s life. The museum is both educational and entertaining for all ages.

At the core of the Museum’s mission are its educational programs that target middle and high school students, helping to develop creative skills and promote self-esteem. Much of the education work is made possible through a Kellogg foundation grant. Workshops are available for adults as well, with classes on swing dance, guitar lessons, cooking lessons with local chefs in the all-Viking kitchen, and a monthly brown bag lunch lecture series.

Another proud addition to the year-old museum is the new educational building. This facility, funded by AT&T, will be the new location for student educational events when it opens officially at the one year anniversary of the museum in September. King actually put his mark on the new building before it was even complete, hosting his annual Homecoming music workshop there in June.

The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center is already changing the Delta, welcoming over 14,000 visitors since the grand opening only nine short months ago. Visitors are coming in tour buses and school groups, for class reunions and family trips, from all 50 states and more than 30 foreign countries so far. As a partner in tourism for the Delta region, the Museum is featured on itineraries for visitors interested in the Blues, American roots music, African-American heritage and Southern culture.

For more information on the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Museum, please visit: www.bbkingmuseum.org or call 662-887-9539.

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