Blues legend BB King celebrated his 81st birthday Saturday in Paris. Photo, the Academy of Achievement,Washington, D.C.
Last night I sang Happy Birthday to BB King - well, along with about 2000 other admirers at the Zenith theatre in Paris. The King was in town as part of his farewell tour and my husband got tickets as a birthday present for another September baby.
To me, BB King is the epitome of the Southern gentleman of a certain generation: hard-working, honest, a good and decent man, despite not always getting a break. And his time on stage reflects his fine character and charm. His powerful music is interspersed with personal stories, exchanges with his band members and the audience. The sheer force of his personality is so strong, the music becomes almost incidental, as a thrilling background to King the man.
King's magic guitar-playing skills are as strong as ever, expertly making his favourite instrument Lucille sing. And his voice is still powerful. His skill as a storyteller draws the audience in, then he rewards his listeners by launching into one of his many stellar hits, such as Ridin' with the King and The Thrill is Gone. Listening to his voice and music, my heart was full.
His touching rendition of the classic You Are My Sunshine brought a tear to my eye. When my daughter was four years old, we often sang that song to each other. And she still has the music box that plays that tune, given to her as solace while I was traveling.
Despite his 14 Grammys, worldwide fame and legendry talents, King has remained true to his Indianaola, Mississippi roots. His good-hearted nature is evident in his pleasant manners. King spent much of the evening thanking the audience with his delightful drawl, "Ya'll have been so nice to us;" introducing and re-introducing his band members and paying tribute to their unique talents. King was accompanied by his family, who flew from the U.S. to celebrate his 81st birthday Saturday.
The Zenith is a nice theatre, except for the strange design of their concrete steps, which has people tripping and falling throughout the evening. Ushers with penlights lead you to your seats - but they've gone ahead to find the seat, leaving one manuevering the double steps - one long wide step topped by a short baby step - in darkness. Perhaps the design was for crowd control; sometimes French logic defies understanding.
King's opening act was an impressive band from Capetown, South Africa, but we never caught their name. By the time we'd gone through security and the slow process of being ushered to our seats, the band's set was well underway.