When we think of blues music, we immediately think of B.B. King. My own father (Douglas) came from the Mississippi Delta area, and B.B. King also came from the Delta?”a town called Itta Bena, Miss. Chicago radio station owner Pervis Spann (his daughter, Meloday Spann Cooper was featured last week) also hails from Itta Bena. My father was influenced by the blues and could play the piano like a professional although he never took a lesson. We often refer to this as “playing by ear.” When I first moved to Chicago in 1963, my father would take me to a small club on Lake Street to hear Howlin’ Wolf, who played there most weekends.
Riley “B.B.” King has been a principal figure in developing the blues and many modern musicians see him as the God of the blues. His influence on music all over the world cannot be really measured.
B.B. (which stands for Blues Boy) worked as a disc jockey in Memphis, Tenn., which is where he got the name. In 1951, he produced a hit record “Three O’Clock Blues,” and the rest as they say is history. B.B. King is the recipient of many awards and honors. Here are a just a few: 18 Grammy Awards, the Presidential Medal of the Arts, Kennedy Center Honors, induction into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1987, he received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, and he also has honorary doctorates from the University of Mississippi, Yale University and Berklee College of Music. In his autobiography, Blues All Around Me (by B.B. King and David Ritz, 1996), you find a man who began in rural poverty and who has remained humble and a man of his words to this day.
Shirley King’s resemblance to her dad is eerie and like her father she is warm, humble, outgoing and down to earth. A resident of Oak Park, Shirley certainly has one of the legendary fathers. She doesn’t deny that having a legendary father helped her introduce her passion and talent to a whole new generation of blues lovers. Born and raised in West Memphis, Ark. in 1949, like many artist she began singing in church. She was greatly impressed by the legendary Etta James, Ruth Brown and Mahalia Jackson. Etta James became her musical role model. “When my father made his first major money,” she recalled, “he bought his father [Albert] a farm in Barlett, Tenn., and that is where I was raised with my grandfather.”
From 1969-1990, Shirley was a dancer, and appeared in the 1970s movie Human Tornado, which starred comedian Rudy Ray Moore.
AWN: About what age did you realize your father was someone “special?”
Shirley: “I started watching him at about 3 years of age on stage, but I did not realize he was special until around age 6.
AWN: Did your father spoil you?
Shirley: “Yes, he tried to replace his absence with items.”
AWN: What are the good points of being the daughter of a legend?
Shirley: “It opens up a lot of doors. My father has done so much work in the blues business, so when people meet me, it’s like I experience the same love.”
AWN: Are there any disadvantages of being the daughter of a legend?
Shirley:: “Oh yes. People like hooking up with me because they can ride on the name B.B. King. People will say they are going to do things to get to my dad. So I get used a lot. People think, because of who my dad is, [that] I have a lot of money. Clubs like to use the name, so this will bring in the people even though my father isn’t performing. For example, this club hired me because my dad was in town. So I took the jig. I was performing and all night they were looking for my dad. I’m up on the stage singing; pretty soon everyone started clapping. I was feeling warm and happy, and I realized my dad had come in. After that, they did not pay me any more attention. This happened twice to me. This is why now my dad does not like to attend my shows because he wants to see me carry my own, and he does not want to overshadow me.”
AWN: Did you feel your father was a stern disciplinarian?
Shirley: “No, my dad was always touring. I remember when I was about 3 years old, my mother would take me to where he was. When he would come offstage, he would show me off. I’ve been a stage baby all my life, and I’m still sitting on stage with my legs dangling, waiting for my dad to finish performing.”
AWN: Has your father been instrumental in promoting your career?
Shirley: “Not personally, but because of name recognition I have benefited.”
AWN: How would you describe your father’s legacy?
Shirley: “Bigger than I can comprehend; he is bigger than life. Sometimes when they try to push me off into his shoes, I shy away. I feel so much better as Shirley King because I’m down to earth and my father has contributed so much to the music industry. I am often overwhelmed by the amount of respect he has earned from around the world. The Guinness Book of Records has him recorded as doing more touring dates than any artist, living or dead. No one has topped that legacy.”
AWN: What was the most important thing you learned from your father?
Shirley: “Loving people, showing a love and respect for fans and always being the best you can be because *God Bless the Child That Has His Own.” (*Song by Billie Holiday)
AWN: Did your father have a familiar quote that he used on you over the years?
Shirley: “Because of my dad’s upbringing, he constantly would quote, “Your word is your bond, and never forget where you come from.” It’s always rewarding to do good and staying humble keeps me grounded. I love working with kids and that is certainly a way of keeping you in touch with reality. If you are a child of a legend, businessman or laborer, you are somebody, and those who look down on others cannot survive a fall to the bottom.”
AWN: Marital status, children, future goals?
Shirley: “Divorced?”I came to Chicago in 1967 to get married and instead the man married my best friend. I did subsequently marry in 1973. I have two children?”a daughter, Vensus, who is 30 and a son, Patrick, 25, who now travels with my dad. I have two grandchildren?”a grandson, Tashawn, 9 years old, and a granddaughter, Jasmine, 5 years old. My grandson is following in his grandma’s footsteps. He loves coming to my shows and playing around with the different instruments. I already see he has a gift and interest in music. I was performing once and after leaving the stage, he had come back out by himself taking bows. I could not believe my eyes, but the audience loved it.
“My future goal is to continue educating kids about the blues. I go into the schools and teach kids who B.B. King is and what he stands for. Also I am talking to some people about a movie, and I would like to do a soundtrack. I have a CD due for release Oct. 26, 2006, called From Daughter to Diva. Two songs that I like are ‘Daughter of the Blues’ and ‘Keep Your Dog Away From my Cat.’
“I am so happy I was included in this daughters of legends; it was an honor to talk about my dad as a human being and a wonderful father.”