B.B. King memorial more cheers than tears in Las Vegas

Ken Ritter
Associated Press

Las Vegas — A standing ovation for B.B. King and more cheers than tears marked a family-and-friends memorial of the late blues great's life and legacy Saturday in Las Vegas.

"B.B. was energetic, Amen?" Pastor Pamela Myrtis Mason said to open the service that drew more than 350 to the Palm Mortuary chapel.

"Amen," they said.

King's closed casket lay framed by an array of floral arrangements, two of his guitars named Lucille and a tapestry showing him in eyes-clenched reverie picking a note from a section of the guitar frets dubbed by followers the "B.B. King Box."

"Why don't you put your hands together for the King of the Blues, B.B. King!" the pastor said.

As the applause ended, granddaughter Landra Williams dubbed him "the backbone of our family King."

More than 10 of King's 35 grandchildren and eight of the blues icon's 11 surviving adult children spoke during a two-hour service that was distinct for its intimacy and notable for its lack of acrimony.

Several sang acappella versions of King classics. From Claudette King Robinson, it was, "(Someone Really Loves You) Guess Who?"

Williams, who lives in Houston, remembered her grandfather calling every woman in the family "pretty girl," and spoiling them all, while making himself their confidante and protector.

"To everyone else, he was a legend," she said. "But for us, he was love."

King's generosity was recalled by grandson Leonard King Jr., who remembered being onstage when people praising the B.B. King show got a prideful earful from his grandfather about his kin.

Singer Shirley King, daughter of blues musician B.B. King, performs at Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas at The LINQ Promenade as she hosts a celebration of the life and music of her father on Friday in Las Vegas, Nevada.

"His humility was almost as legendary as his music," the grandson said.

Rock guitarists Carlos Santana and Richie Sambora attended, although Santana left early.

"Buddy Guy and B.B. let me into the blues," said Sambora, longtime part of the band Bon Jovi. "That's why I'm here. He made me family."

Other music notables are expected to attend memorials in coming days in Memphis, Tennessee, and King's hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.

King's onstage drummer for 37 years, Tony Coleman, provided another upbeat note on a day full of them.

"He fired me five times," Coleman said, drawing laughter. "But he hired me six times. He said, 'Once you're with me, you're always with me.'"

Coleman promised to go on playing blues "with class, with dignity, with humanity" — just like B.B. King taught him to do.

King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won 15 Grammys and sold more than 40 million records worldwide.

A family feud wasn't directly addressed by the dozens of speakers.

Several of King's surviving children are feuding with LaVerne Toney, his longtime business agent and power-of-attorney, who is now executor of his estate. Toney watched Saturday from the back row of the chapel and didn't speak during the service.

Attorney Larissa Drohobyczer, said Saturday that five adult King daughters — Patty King, Michelle King, Karen Williams, Barbara King Winfree and Claudette King Robinson — will contest the blues legend's will and Toney's actions.

The statement alleges Toney has misappropriated millions of dollars, has been untruthful and is unqualified to serve as executor of the B.B. King estate.

Toney told The Associated Press that she would not immediately respond.

She said she was happy the memorial remained calm, peaceful and respectful.

The spirit of B.B. King will be in the air again on Sunday at the previously scheduled 35th annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival in Indianola.