The Polar Music Prize for 2004 is being awarded to the American composer, singer and performer Riley B King for his significant contributions to the blues.
King’s total dedication to his music, a rich recording history and tireless touring lasting more than half a century have made him one of the most prominent figures within the blues. Through his achievements in spreading the blues throughout the world, he has, as a leading proponent of his music, proved of fundamental importance to the development of modern popular music.
B. B.King is known as “the King of the Blues” and for half a century has been one of the absolute foremost figures in his music genre. King has lifted the blues from the confines of the American South and brought it to a huge audience the world over.
King has behind him an extensive recording history. He made his breakthrough in 1951 with “Three O’clock Blues” and showed he was here to stay by following it up with his “Everyday I Have the Blues” and “Sweet Little Angel”, which even went on to become King’s signature tune. The “Live at the Regal” album from 1962 is considered by many critics to be one of the best blues recordings ever. More recently B.B.King has enjoyed wide public attention once again after teaming up with U2 on the album “Rattle and Hum” and Eric Clapton on “Riding with the King”.
King has managed to combine all this with an untiring enthusiasm for touring. In the 1950s, he made between 250 and 340 appearances a year, and continues to tour heavily to this day; although at the age of 78, he’s cut down a little – to 200 appearances a year.
King has developed a characteristic personal style that has influenced the entire world of modern rock music. He plays his guitar – “Lucille”, as he has affectionately called it – as if it were an extension of the song, and with his fastidious note-bending he intensifies the entire emotional impact of his music. A trained ear can pick out traces of his blues forebears, such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Lonnie Johnson, to name but a few.
B. B. King in turn has influenced nearly every successive blues – and rock – artist from Chuck Berry and Bo Didley to Prince and Eric Clapton. As a guitarist he has been of particular importance to the development of contemporary white rock: Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons and Keith Richards have all had B. B.King as a vital common denominator and source of inspiration.
Riley B King was born 16 September 1925 on a plantation in the Berclair community near the small town of Itta Bena, Mississippi, USA. Previous tributes include 13 Grammies, acceptance into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Guitar Player magazine’s Blues Guitarist of the Year Award, which he won five times in succession.