A standing ovation for B.B. King and more cheers than tears marked a family-and-friends memorial of the late blues great’s life and legacy Saturday, May 23, in Las Vegas.
“B.B. was energetic, Amen?” Pastor Pamela Myrtis Mason said to open the service that drew more than 350 to the Palm Mortuary chapel.
“Amen,” they said.
King’s closed casket lay framed by an array of floral arrangements, two of his guitars named Lucille and a tapestry showing him in eyes-clenched reverie picking a note from a section of the guitar frets dubbed by followers the “B.B. King Box.”
“Why don’t you put your hands together for the King of the Blues, B.B. King!” the pastor said.
As the applause ended, granddaughter Landra Williams dubbed him “the backbone of our family King.”
More than 10 of King’s 35 grandchildren and eight of the blues icon’s 11 surviving adult children spoke during a two-hour service that was distinct for its intimacy and notable for its lack of acrimony.
Several sang a cappella versions of King classics. From daughter Claudette King Robinson, it was, “(Someone Really Loves You) Guess Who?”
Williams, who lives in Houston, remembered her grandfather calling every woman in the family “pretty girl,” and spoiling them all, while making himself their confidante and protector.
“To everyone else, he was a legend,” she said. “But for us, he was love.”
King’s generosity was recalled by grandson Leonard King Jr., who remembered being onstage when people praising the B.B. King show got a prideful earful from his grandfather about his kin.
“His humility was almost as legendary as his music,” the grandson said.
Other music notables are expected to attend memorials in coming days in Memphis, Tennessee, and King’s hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.
King’s onstage drummer for 37 years, Tony Coleman, provided another upbeat note on a day full of them.
“He fired me five times,” Coleman said, drawing laughter. “But he hired me six times. He said, `Once you’re with me, you’re always with me.’ “
Coleman promised to go on playing blues “with class, with dignity, with humanity” — just like B.B. King taught him to do.
King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He won 15 Grammys and sold more than 40 million records worldwide.
A family feud wasn’t directly addressed by the dozens of speakers.
Several of King’s surviving children are fighting with LaVerne Toney, his longtime business agent and power-of-attorney, who is now executor of his estate. Toney watched Saturday from the back row of the chapel and didn’t speak during the service.
Attorney Larissa Drohobyczer said Saturday that five adult King daughters — Patty King, Michelle King, Karen Williams, Barbara King Winfree and Robinson — will contest the blues legend’s will and Toney’s actions.
The lawyer issued a statement alleging that Toney has misappropriated millions of dollars, has been untruthful and is unqualified to serve as executor of the B.B. King estate.
Toney has said she was carrying out King’s wishes as directed, and she told The Associated Press on Saturday that she would not immediately respond to the daughters’ allegations.
Toney said she was happy the memorial remained calm, peaceful and respectful.
The spirit of B.B. King will be in the air again on Sunday at the previously scheduled 35th annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival in Indianola.
That will be followed by a procession on Wednesday on Beale Street in Memphis before the last leg of what Landra Williams, the granddaughter, has dubbed “The Road to Mississippi Tour” — the last leg of Riley B. King’s trip to Indianola for burial May 30.