News of B.B. King’s passing on May 14, 2015 opened a chapter of personal experience. Others can write about his life, my farewell is to the man I met one night in 1998.
My position at the arena dictated impeccable implementation and supervision of all catering requests – media, private, suites, dressing rooms and “backstage”. Backstage demanded certain levels of finesse and patience – I won’t name names, suffice to say painting nails red on bowls of raw chicken feet or sanitizing and individually wrapping every last knife, fork and spoon where just another day at the office. Every so often, along came artists void of absurd demands, obnoxious sense of importance or frivolous indulgences. Artists who didn’t insist I fire any employee who look them in the eye. Artists like Carlos Santana, Harry Connick Jr. and B.B. King.
King entered with barely a whimper of introduction, oblivious to the magnitude of his gift. If joy could be packaged, King would be the one wrapping parcels. His presence enveloped the room with an energy so extraordinary, I witnessed impromptu bouts of unabashed laughter erupt. He wasn’t there for the media, money or affirmation of self. I doubt it would have mattered if a dozen or 20,000 were in the audience – he needed to play.
Watching him before the show, I was struck by the effortless interaction between King, his musicians, road crew and my staff. In his world everyone was equal. His road crew didn’t coddle or scurry about in a state of precautionary nervous tension. It didn’t take long to realize genuine fondness and respect obliterated the need for anything other than King’s desire to play.
After the concert I expected him to hastily leave the building, most artists made a B-line for their hotel. Not King, for him the evening had just begun. He didn’t retreat to a dressing room or sequester himself away, King sat down backstage, smack dab in the middle of the concourse, talking to anyone inclined to pass by. I assure you, scores of people found themselves drawn to his impromptu court. An hour passed, then two. Sometime around 2 AM King motioned as I passed by. “Darlin’, I could really use some BBQ potato chips”. When I returned a few minutes later, chips in one hand, he took my free hand pressing something into the palm.
To this day, one of my treasured possessions is the gold necklace King placed in my hand. A pendant commemorating the tour with cities and dates. To ponder B.B. King is to appreciate the magnitude of his ability to elicit a celebration of life. King embraced his life’s purpose, never once forgetting that every voice counts.
12 hours spent in the presence of B.B. King profoundly altered my perception of living with an eye to a greater good. B.B. King taught me to slow down, enjoy the moment and relax – farewell Mr. King, I’ll miss you.