MEMPHIS, Tenn. – A Dixieland jazz band walked ahead of a slow black hearse and a crowd of thousands followed as the city of Memphis said farewell Wednesday to blues legend B.B. King with a tribute and processional down Beale Street.
The street whose name is virtually synonymous with the blues is where a young, ex-sharecropper named Riley B. King was nicknamed the Beale Street Blues Boy – later shortened to B.B. – and where King rose to fame.
The Memphis-based Mighty Souls Brass Band played “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Behind them and just ahead of the hearse, drummer Rodd Bland – son of the late blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland – carried one of King’s signature “Lucille” guitars.
The huge crowd filled Beale Street and spilled down side streets as onlookers pressed in making cellphone pictures.
“This is history,” said Detroit resident Mary Springfield, standing at Beale and Third streets.
“This is an awesome feeling. This is a legacy and I’m part of it today, and I’m blessed to be here.” She traveled to Memphis for the processional.
“Such a beautiful day,” said Memphis native Gary Daly. “It’s a great tribute to a wonderful contributor to the world of music. It’s been really amazing to see the people of Memphis coming out, having a great time together, celebrating a wonderful, loving man.”
Tributes in music and words were also offered at nearby W.C. Handy Park.
The processional paused next to B.B. King’s Blues Club before turning onto B.B. King Blues Highway.
“We are so proud. We are sad, yes we are sad but we are glad he did come through this way,” said spectator Carmen Adair Thomas. “And I did get a chance to enjoy his entertainment. We thank God today for B.B. King. May he rest in peace.”
King’s body is being taken to Indianola, Mississippi, which King considered his hometown, for his funeral on Saturday.
King died May 14 in hospice care at home in Las Vegas at age 89.