A black granite slab now marks the gravesite of B.B. King, the blues icon who died nearly seven months ago in Las Vegas but was returned for burial in his beloved native Mississippi as he wished.
More than 100 relatives, friends, fans and former employees gathered Friday (Dec. 11) to dedicate the stone that eventually will become the centerpiece of a memorial garden outside the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center.
King was buried May 30 outside the museum in Indianola, the Delta cotton country town where he first sang and played guitar on street corners as a young man.
For months, the gravesite was adorned with just a wreath and a chain-link fence. Architectural drawings for the memorial garden show benches and song titles engraved on metal panels. It will be part of a $4.5 million expansion of the museum that tells King’s life story.
“Some folks might argue that the blues is the greatest export from Mississippi … and the greatest purveyor of that music was B.B. King,” state Sen. John Horhn of Jackson said during the dedication ceremony.
One of King’s top hits, “The Thrill Is Gone,” played from loudspeakers as a black cloth was pulled back to reveal the ledger engraved with his birth name, Riley B. King, and his signature. Also engraved in gold on the stone are lyrics from “Take It Home,” a song on his 1979 album of the same name:
“Don’t know why / I was made to wander / I’ve seen the light, Lord / I’ve felt the thunder. / Someday I’ll go home again / And I know they’ll take me in. / And take it home.”
Seven of King’s 11 living children attended the dedication, as did numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“This is such an outpouring of love and seeing how the Delta really loved B.B. King and what a wonderful man he was,” said one of his daughters, Karen King Williams of Las Vegas, while dabbing tears from her eyes. “This is just how he would want to be remembered.”
Soon after King died at age 89, Williams and one of her sisters, Patty King of Las Vegas, publicly accused his longtime personal assistant, Myron Johnson, of poisoning their father. But a coroner’s report showed the performer died of Alzheimer’s disease, plus physical conditions including coronary disease, heart failure and the effects of Type 2 diabetes.
Johnson attended the dedication ceremony Friday, and there was no interaction between him and the two women. Instead, Johnson, who had traveled with King for 11 years as tour manager, spoke warmly of the man he considered a friend as well as an employer.
“He had a big heart and a kind soul,” Johnson said before the ceremony. He held hands with his own two daughters, 5-year-old Jordyn and 2-year-old Olivia, and said the girls still ask about the man they called Papa B.B.