B.B. King Museum celebrates expansion & memorial garden

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(Photo by Laura Carbone)

By Brinda Fuller Willis, PhD
Jackson Advocate Contributing Writer

June 5, 2021 was a date to remember for true Blues music fans. And most true Blues fans are also fans of B.B. King – “The King of the Blues”.

The B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center celebrated and paid honor to the Riley B. King, aka B.B. King, during the B.B. King Museum Expansion and Memorial Garden event. This included the unveiling of a bronze life-sized statue of King – sculpted Toby Mendez.

In this sculpture, King’s famed guitar, “Lucille,” two personally owned cars (a Rolls-Royce Silver Shadow and a custom-painted Chevy El Camino), and one of his tour buses filled with state-of-the-art technology and custom home-on-the-road living quarters are all featured in the museum. King’s burial plot is also a part of the new expansion space.

The B.B. King Museum Expansion is a 4,500 square feet addition to the original museum that opened back in 2008. The new expansion depicts and showcases items from King’s final years before he made his transition on May 15, 2015 in Las Vegas.

The Museum Expansion began with a ribbon cutting ceremony that included Grammy Award winner Bad, Bad Bobby Rush; Tony “TC” Coleman, King’s drummer from the B.B. King Band; Blues duo Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks; Gray Clark, Jr.; and Malika Polk-Lee, Executive Director B.B. King Museum, along with local dignitaries.

According to Robert Terrell, Director of Museum Operations, “The unveiling of the B.B. King statue and opening of the Memorial Garden was a work in progress for several years. We wanted to make this an event that included close friends, family members and band members [who] had a genuine connection to B.B. King. I only had to call once to invite them to come to Mississippi to celebrate the unveiling of the statue and opening of the B.B. King Museum Expansion and Memorial Garden. Our hope is that even more visitors will come to visit us and learn more about the “King of the Blues”, his legacy, his life, his music that is a gift to the world.”

A historic cavalcade of Bluesmen and women were assembled by Terrell, Polk-Lee, and the museum staff, who executed the once-in-a-lifetime event with attention to every detail. Mrs. Willie Bland, wife of Bobby “Blue” Bland; Teeny Tucker, daughter of famed bluesman Tommy Tucker; Walter Riley King, nephew of B.B. King and band member/saxophonist; and Tony “TC” Coleman, B.B.’s longtime drummer, were special museum guests of the day.

The “Blues Block Party”, as it was billed, started at 3:00 p.m. and the musicians let “The Good Times Roll” until after Midnight while leaving the audience asking for more. The overflowing number of guitar strings plucked throughout the night were led by performances featuring Mr. Sipp, Lil Ray Neal, Vasti Jackson, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Kenny Neal, Tom Wurth, Susan Tedeschi/Derek Trucks, Gary Clark, Jr., and D. K. Harrell. Special music guests also included members of B.B. King’s band (Tony “TC” Coleman & Friends, Walter Riley King and Ken Bean on piano/organ).

Ethan Oltremari served as the master of ceremony for the day, introducing each performer and announcing the long list of event sponsors. Each musician gave an individual mini Blues concert that paid tribute to King’s music. The concert frequently ended up with the crowd of approximate 2,000 local, national and international Blues fans singing along – no doubt due to King’s familiar and beloved music.

Many of the Bluesmen and women told intimate stories of how they met and interacted with B.B. King during his lifetime. Susan Tedeschi told her story of how she and Derek Trucks met B.B. King and about their time on the road with him when they were just 16 years old. Blues prodigy and 22-year-old phenom, “Kingfish,” invited Keith Johnson, “Prince of the Delta Blues”, who is the 27-year-old great nephew of Muddy Waters, to perform a duet with him. Lil Ray Neal called Blues woman, Teeny Tucker up and they gave the crowd a brief Blues blast from the past when they took to the stage to perform “Rock Me Baby.” Tucker also won Blues Song of the Year at the 2021 Blues Music Awards for her song “All Out of Tears”. Blues royalty and celebrated Bluesman, Gary Clark, Jr., graciously allowed young blues guitarist D. K. Harrell the space to showcase his talents which left the crowd electrified and wanting to experience more of his special skills and technique.

The Museum publicity information reports, “The multi-million-dollar expansion was made possible with the support of the City of Indianola, the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the State of Mississippi, Delta Regional Authority, Mississippi Arts Commission, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and private donations. The Expansion connects the existing exhibit space with the AT&T Learning Center. Gallagher and Associates, the designers of the original exhibit, also planned the Expansion. The building design was done by Canizaro-Cawthon-Davis with engineering by Gardner Engineering, construction by David Smith Construction, and exhibit fabrication by Salomon Group.”

The music finale was truly a historic panoramic view of living legends. A parade of guitarists singing their spontaneous version of B.B. King’s immortal “The Thrill Is Gone” caused standing ovations and vocal eruptions from the crowd that matched the previous sounds of the fireworks display that was to signal the end of the show.

For more information and reservations for tours of the B. B. King Museum expansion, call 662-877-9539, email: mpolk_lee@bbkingmuseum.org, or visit www.bbkingmuseum.org. The museum is located at 400 Second Street, Indianola, MS 38751.