In this lesson, students will explore the life and work of “the most popular and influential blues guitarist of the last three decades,” according to Robert Palmer, author of Deep Blues, (p. 178). The life of Riley B. “B.B.” King is, in many ways, reflective of the early hard lives of most Delta blues musicians. No study of Mississippi’s rich cultural history is complete without including the Delta blues and its practitioners, now studied, sung, and imitated around the world.
- H.4.4.1 - 1. Identify Mississippians known for their artwork, music, architecture, and literature.
- H.4.4.2 - Describe how literature, the arts, architecture, and music affect tourism within the state.
- MS.11.1 - Describe the accomplishments of important Mississippi artists.
- MS.11.2 - Analyze how Mississippi’s history has impacted artists, musicians, and writers.
- MS.11.3 - Examine the role of cultural diversity in the artistic, musical, and literary traditions of Mississippi.
- MS.11.4 - Analyze the impact of religious traditions on artistic expressions of Mississippians.
- MS.11.5 - Identify locations in Mississippi that have artistic significance.
Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.
MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT
- Mississippi History Now article
- Butcher paper
- Large index cards
- detail significant events in the life and musical career of B.B. King;
- determine why his performances were so appealing to his audiences;
- define the role he has played in introducing the blues to national and international audiences;
- find examples of a continuing relationship between Mr. King and his home state.
OPENING THE LESSON
Play for the students the recording “The Thrill is Gone” linked from Mississippi History Now, or “Three O’Clock Blues” on the B.B. King Museum site. Ask students if they recognize either the song or the singer. Play the selection again, asking students to record their impressions of the music. Once the selection is identified as “blues” and the performer is named, let students brainstorm what they know about blues music. If possible, play appropriate snippets of recordings from the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and tell students those musicians learned to sing as they listened to the music of Delta bluesmen. Learning about the life of B.B. King is a good way for students to understand how blues music evolved and how it spread around the world.
DEVELOPING THE LESSON
- Students will read the Mississippi History Now article. Divide the class into small groups to make a timeline of B.B. King’s life. Ask students to draw a large outline of a guitar and to fashion their timeline within the instrument. Display the works around the room and use them as a basis for a class discussion regarding King’s life. Be sure to include the following information: King’s name change, his background, his “big break” in Memphis, awards, etc.
- Tell students that King has been referred to as “the most popular and influential blues guitarist of the last three decades.” Ask them to re-read the article and to suggest reasons why King’s musical style is so appealing. (They should mention his Delta blues heritage, his rich voice, and his distinctive guitar style.) At this point in the lesson, play other B.B. King recordings as available.
- King’s achievements as a blues writer, performer, and spokesperson are numerous. Ask students to check their timelines for examples of these achievements in order to understand his contributions to making the blues known around the world.
- Ask students to design a publicity brochure showcasing all King-related events in Mississippi. (Large size index cards are good to use for this activity. They can be folded to produce a small booklet.)
CONCLUDING THE LESSON
Tell students that B.B. King has been nominated to an international Musician’s Hall of Fame. Ask them to write an essay explaining why he music is important to Mississippians.
ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING
- Completion of “GUITAR” timeline
- Small and large group participation
- Completion of brochure
EXTENDING THE LESSON
- Visit the B.B. King Museum in Indianola.
- Students may want to research the lives of other famous blues musicians.
- A visit by a blues musician to the classroom would be enjoyable.
- King was born September 16, 1925. Students can celebrate his birthday through learning about his life and music.
- Web sites of interest: deltabluesmuseum.com; and pbs.org/riverofsong/music/e3-play.html