learning from a legend

Some people were made for this.

IMG_0003Last Thursday, I had the privilege of listening to a legend. B.B. King was performing at the Fox Theater in Oakland, and, knowing it was my birthday, a friend invited me to go. I hadn’t been to a concert in years. How could I say no?

I made the right choice.

“Thank you. Thank you. You’re too kiiind,” said King as he entered to a standing ovation, waving, from stage left. His voice was rich and deep. It went well with his glittering jacket.

“It’s good to be here . . . Oakland. Oakland, California. I’ve got stories about Oakland.” King sounded mischievous as he sat down on a chair at center stage. “But . . . Well. I’ll save those for a-nother time.”

The audience laughed. I was amazed by his stage presence. It was as though he’d been in the spotlight all his life.

. . .

“I’m eighty-seven.” The audience erupted into applause. “Eighty-seven! Can you believe that? . . . Now, you young folks: Don’t be goin’ ’round sayin’, ‘He’s eighty-seven younggg! B.B., you’re younggg!’ . . . No. Eighty-seven is olddd! I’m olddd!”

We laughed again.

And then B.B. and his band started to play.

And took my breath away.

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B.B. in his signature coat.

The band, which consisted of trumpets, a flute, an alto and tenor saxophone, bass guitar, drums, and piano took off, and B.B. and “Lucille” followed along. They performed classics like “Rock me baby,” “Nobody loves me but my mother (and she could be jivin’, too),” and “Every day I have the blues.” The ease with which B.B. floated over the notes astounded me. I’ve studied jazz—played the alto saxophone for eight years—and I sucked at improv. B.B. made it look as natural as breathing.

But that’s not what took my breath away.

B.B. King was born on a plantation in Mississippi in 1925. As a kid, he played on street corners for dimes. In 1947, he hitchhiked to Memphis, Tennessee, where he studied blues with his cousin, Bukka White, and got his first big break on the radio. Success followed. Soon B.B. began performing all over the country, and, over the years, he developed one of the world’s most identifiable guitar styles. He became a model for artists like Eric Clapton, George Harrison, and Jeff Beck. Today, more than fifty albums and inductions into the Blues Foundation and Rock and Roll Halls of Fame later, B.B. is a living legend. Truly, he is the “King of the Blues.”

But that’s not what took my breath away, either.

What took my breath away was the way he loved it. And the way he loves it. And the way he’s always loved it. He had a talent, a passion, a dream—and, no matter the obstacles (he was born before the Civil Rights movement, if you remember), he worked and worked and worked, and, against all odds, he made his dream come true. And it’s still coming true. And it’s always going to be coming true.

Long after B.B. is gone, his reign will go on. B.B. won’t be forgotten. He’ll be remembered. And looked up to. And aspired to.

He’ll be loved. By people like me. And people like you.

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B.B. talks to the crowd during the performance.

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Jammin’

bb-king1“There are so many sounds I still want to make, so many things I haven’t yet done.”

“It seems like I always had to work harder than other people. Those nights when everybody else is asleep, and you sit in your room trying to play scales.”

“I never use that word, ‘retire.'”

“The way I feel today, as long as my health is good and I can handle myself well and people still come to my concerts, still buy my CDs, I’ll keep playing until I feel like I can’t.”

“The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.”

—B.B. King (pictured above in his youth)

After the show:

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For a taste of B.B. live, check out this video.
Sources: bbking.com
*To my new friends, thank you so much for stopping by, and I’m sorry I haven’t said “thank you” to all of you individually yet! I’m usually better at saying hello than this. Looking forward to getting to know all of you better soon!
*To those of you who have been around for a while, check out my “about” section. You’ll notice something different. ;)

33 thoughts

    • Me too! It’s very true. Doing something you love and following your dreams is what makes life worth living.

      At least if you want to live well.

  1. Beautifully written! :-)
    I’m a musician in my other life, under yet another name ;) , and music is heaven to me. I enjoyed every word of THIS post! :-)
    You play alto sax, huh? Not bad at all. (I have one, but I DON’T play it). I just bang chords on my guitar and sing my songs, and sometimes jump on stage.
    It’s a pleasure getting to know this side of you.

    • Why am I not surprised that you would also be a musician? Is there something about music and poetry that goes together? I think so…

      Yes, I played sax. Still have one but haven’t pulled it out in a long time. After high school I had more important things to do. Haha.
      Thanks for the comment! I’m enjoying getting to know you, too!

    • I’ll bet I would. I haven’t spent much time in Chicago outside of the airport. I have a friend in New Orleans, though, who keeps wanting me to go… I hope you do! It would definitely be fun.

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  3. I love BB KING! He’s such a classic. Didn’t even know he was still alive. You are lucky to have actual artist and respectable celebrities available so close…and the class and education to recognize it. Here in Lynchburg girls swoon over hyped celebs like Tim Tebow coming to town and probably wouldn’t even know who BB is.

    • I have to be honest: I haven’t listened to B.B. a lot over the years. As I said (sort of), jazz and improv isn’t really my thing… BUT. I loved B.B. and listening to him live was a treat. It is nice that a lot of artists come through California, although there are plenty of things I don’t like about living here, too…

      And, haha! I had to look up Tim Tebow!

  4. Pingback: dreamers | shift

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