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The Irish Blues Boy

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B.B. King In London
Photo: Estate of Keith Morris/Redferns

B.B. King has the most famous initials in the Blues, and probably in all music. This is his account of how his name came about.

“When I was a disc jockey at the beginning, they used to bill me as Blues Boy, the boy from Beale Street. When people would write to me, instead of saying the Blues Boy, they’d just abbreviate it to BB. But my name is Riley B King. When I was in Ireland I was telling the people over there that I guess I feel a little Irish because I was born on this plantation and my dad worked for a person named Jim O’Riley. He and my dad were such good friends that they named me after him, but he left the O off. So when I got big enough to know about it, I asked my dad one day, I said ‘dad why is it that you named me after Mr O’Riley, why did you leave the O off’? He said, ‘you didn’t look Irish enough! ‘Anyway, the B is just a middle initial. In the south, especially Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, you find a lot of people with just initials for a name. I know a person named E.H. Hemphill and that’s all I know, E.H. Hemphill, I was at school with him and he’s just called E.H.

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