Shirley King visits her dad, BB recuperating after a show in 2012 in Louisville

Did white rockers “save” the blues when the thrill was gone, as in the story repeated by Clarence Page of the Chicago Tribune?  The best tribute to BB King might be for Black musicians to re-inherit the music.

Hi Mr. Page,

I always enjoy your Tribune columns for providing a different perspective.

As a white blues musician who supports and promotes Black musicians, I need to provide one for you too after your reading your column about BB King on Sunday May 17.

The story of BB King getting rejected in certain Black venues at the height of the 1960s, and that white rockers supposedly saved the blues, has been repeated over and over, to the benefit only of said white rockers.

The story that’s neglected is that, first, a lot of bluesmen such as Bobby Blue Bland and Litle Milton kept on making a living well into the 21st century playing to African American audiences. So African Americans did not all reject the blues.

Secondly, these white rockers prevented the second generation of African American musicians after Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and BB King from inheriting the wealth of the blues.  Eric Clapton, for example, would always play onstage with BB King and Buddy Guy, reinforcing the fame of those already famous.  But although he’s been in a position to promote the dozens of excellent Chicago Black musicians trying to make a living, Clapton’s never done so.

The same goes for the powers that be in the city. If Chicago does not start promoting these musicians, and they fail to make a living, the blues art form will not survive the baby-boom generation. Chicago Blues is known worldwide. Its an asset that could serve the city well and help get beyond its Chi-raq ghetto reputation. 

And yes, African Americans do need to claim the blues, and these musicians, as a cultural asset. That is a current issue and the thrill is not gone!

See more about such things in my blog for the Austin Weekly NEws, West Side Blues.

 thanx for listening!

yours truly, Bonni McKeown

 P.S. Forgot to remind you, Shirley King, BB’s daughter has been singing for 30 years, headquartered for much of this time in Oak Park and on the South Side.  Like Bessie Smith, Shirley will rattle the rafters, and is great with showing young people how to sing their own blues.

Bonni McKeown

"Barrelhouse Bonni" McKeown, the author of "West Side Blues Blog," has played piano and written about blues music for over 15 years.  She has led classes for young and old on...

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