B.B. King started singing gospel songs on a Mississippi street corner as a teen and grew into the world's unrivaled ambassador of the blues. His indelible style defined the genre, and in addition to scores of Grammys and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, Eric Clapton has called him "the most important artist the blues has ever produced." King died on Thursday, May 14th, after a decades-long battle with diabetes. Remember his career's pivotal moments in photos, then check out his five greatest live performances, our full obituary and our definitive 1998 profile, On the Bus With B.B. King.
B.B. King performs on the radio station WDIA in 1948 in Memphis, Tennessee. Early radio appearances like this helped him build an audience all over the south.
By the time he was 27, King was well-known for his appearances on Memphis radio station WDIA. Their 1948 portrait of King remains one of his most iconic images.
King poses for a portrait in 1950, just one year after his first singles "Miss Martha King" and "Got the Blues" came out. It was the beginning of a nearly 65-year career.
King with band leader Johnny Otis circa 1952.
B.B. King performs with his Gibson guitar "Lucille" and backup dancers in 1963 at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The previous October, James Brown recorded his famous live album at the same venue.
In the mid-Sixties, a new generation of guitarists were taking their inspiration directly from King. Here's the guitarist, Eric Clapton and Elvin Bishop in New York City circa 1967. It was the beginning of a long friendship between Clapton and King.
King onstage at New York's Central Park on June 13th, 1969. It was the same month "The Thrill Is Gone" landed in record shops. It would become his signature song.
Backstage at the 1971 Grammy Awards, where "The Thrill Is Gone" won Best R&B Male Vocal Performance.
King went to England in June 1971 to record B.B. King in London, which featured Ringo Starr on three tracks.
When B.B. King appeared on American Bandstand in the Seventies, he refused to lip sync, becoming one of the few musicians to ever play live on the show.
B.B. King spent much of his life on the road. Here he is at a 1977 show, the same year he released the LP King Size.
English audiences embraced B.B. King early on and never let go. This picture was taken at London's Hammersmith Odeon on October 14th, 1978.
In October 1980, King played at the Bread & Roses Festival at the Berkeley's Greek Theater. Neil Young, Van Morrison, Leonard Cohen and Taj Mahal were also on the bill. King performed with Joni Mitchell, who is on the left.
King was one of many performers to honor Les Paul (left) at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1988. He shared the bill with Eddie Van Halen, David Gilmour, Steve Miller and Waylon Jennings.
King's career received a huge boost in 1988 when he appeared in U2's movie Rattle and Hum, where he sang "When Loves Comes to Town" with the band. In 1989-'90 they toured Europe together.
President George H.W. Bush and First Lady Barbara Bush present King with the National Medal of Arts on September 10th, 1990 at the White House.
Bob Dylan is said to be on a so-called Never Ending Tour, but B.B. King always played far more shows a year. Here he is at the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam on July 14th 1995.
In December 2000, King played TNT's A Very Special Christmas to honor the the Special Olympics.
The B.B. King Blues Club & Grill has been hosting concerts in New York's Times Square for the past 15 years. Here is King (left) and Bo Diddley celebrating the club's second anniversary on June 20th, 2002.
To promote his seven-part PBS documentary The Blues, Martin Scorsese organized a massive blues concert at Radio City Music Hall on February 7th, 2003. King shared the bill with Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, the Neville Brothers, Macy Gray and members of Aerosmith.
A new B.B. King Blues Club opened in Las Vegas on December 11th, 2009, and the man himself was there to play on the first night.