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 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.