The personal and professional trials and triumphs of B.B. King (aka King of the Blues) will be chronicled in PBS’ “American Masters” documentary series in a film titled “: The Life of Riley,” premiering nationwide during Black History Month on Friday, February 12 at 9 p.m. (ET).
Narrated by Morgan Freeman, who also appears in the film, “Life of Riley” was made with the full cooperation of The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi, and was filmed in locations across America, as well as the UK.
Award-winning producer/director Jon Brewer worked on the film with King for two years. Filming was completed shortly before King passed on May 14, 2015.
“B.B. King: The Life of Riley” explores King’s challenging life and career through candid interviews with the man himself, his family, longtime friends, and fellow music contemporaries such as Bono, George Benson, Eric Clapton, Aaron Neville, John Mayer, Bonnie Raitt, Carlos Santana, Ringo Starr, Johnny Winter, and more.
King candidly reminisces about memorable people in his life such as preacher Archie Fair, the first person he heard play an electric guitar; cousin Bukka White, who taught him about being a blues singer; the musical influence of bluesman T-Bone Walker and French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt; his stint as a disc jockey where his radio names (Beale Street Blues Boy and Blues Boy King) were eventually shortened to B.B. King; and how and why he came to name his guitars Lucille. A bittersweet moment in the film is King’s reflection on marriage. King had two wives, Martha Lee Denton, and then Sue Carol Hall. The failures of each marriage were attributed to King’s relentless touring schedule.
Rare archival footage is interspersed throughout the film, including his 1968 performance at Bill Graham’s Fillmore West where he was billed with some of the hottest rock stars, who idolized him and helped to introduce him to a young white audience.
Among the highlights from the film is footage of King’s collaboration with Bono, and the story behind King and Eric Clapton’s recording of “Riding with the King.”
The King of Blues died at age 89. The city of Memphis, where he had performed so many times, held a funeral procession for him down Beale Street, with a brass band marching in front of the hearse, playing “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
“B.B. King became America’s most recognizable and influential blues musician,” says Michael Kantor, executive producer of “American Masters.” “The thrill isn’t really gone yet – I think anyone who sees this film will be thrilled and inspired by this legendary artist.”
The 30th anniversary season of “American Masters” continues with new documentaries about fellow music legends Carole King February 19), Fats Domino (February 26), Loretta LynnMarch 4), Janis JoplinMay 3) and The Highwaymen (May 27).
“American Masters: : The Life of Riley” is a production of Emperor Media Ltd. in Association with KingSid Ventures Ltd. & Cardinal Releasing Ltd. The show is distributed by BBC Worldwide North America. Producer and Director is B.B. KingJon Brewer. Executive Producers are Jon Brewer and Tina France. Associate Producer is Laura Royko, Assistant Producer for American Masters Edited Version is Chantell Basiacik. Narrator is Morgan Freeman.