B.B. King’s first-ever guitar is up for auction through Wednesday, June 14 at 9pm! Click here to place a bid on King’s acoustic six-string that he first picked up when he was 5 or 6 years old. Watch a video about the guitar and read more about it below.
Additionally, tune in to B.B. King’s Bluesville anytime on SiriusXM channel 74 via radio or the SXM App. Powered by The Blues Foundation, the exclusive channel plays blues music from the past to the present: B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Etta James, Robert Cray, Keb’ Mo’, Taj Mahal, John Lee Hooker, and others.
Everyone remembers their first love. For blues legend B.B. King, it was this six-string acoustic 1920s-30s Parlor-style guitar, the very first guitar the Blues legend ever laid in his gifted hands! King said, “I started to like blues, I guess, when I was about 6 or 7 years old. There was something about it because nobody else played that kind of music.” This very guitar was the first step in King’s legendary career after taking inspiration from the blues, making it one of the most important musical items to come to auction in quite some time and a unique piece of American history.
According to family lore, the guitar was given to King by his mother’s first cousin, Delta Blues legend Bukka White, when he was 5 or 6 years old! Bukka White was a noted bluesman in his own right, and King followed him to Memphis, Tennessee, where he resided with Bukka for ten months in 1946.
When King gifted his first guitar to his young granddaughter, Sylvia Willaims-Starkes, he said, “I’m giving you my very first love, the first guitar I held in my hands and learned on, adding, “I was younger than you,” while putting his hand out at knee height to demonstrate the age at which his road to Blues greatness began.
The “Beale Street Blues Boy” had a music career that spanned over six decades. With 15 Grammy Awards, more than 50 albums, and a coveted spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, King is widely considered—rightfully so—as one of the most influential blues musicians ever to live.
And this guitar is where the legend of King started and where he began to hone his unique style of soloing, string-bending, vibrato technique, and staccato picking that inspired countless imitators and inspired legions of rock legends, ranging from Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and The Rolling Stones, to name a few. The rich sonic landscape we have today would be duller if King hadn’t picked up this guitar, gifted to him by Bukka White while living on the Berclair plantation in Mississippi.
The guitar was the perfect vessel for King to hone his divinely-inspired Blues playing. The Parlor guitar is smaller, measuring roughly 36 inches in length, creates a folkier sound, and is easy to fingerpick and use slides, all major Blues techniques that King honed on this instrument. According to the lack of any labeling, the custom eye-hook on the guitar’s side, and the hand-placed mother-of-pearl inlays around the guitar hole, this instrument was most likely hand-made, and it comes with the original guitar case. Due to age and storage, the back has cracked, and the original wood at the back seam has been lifted. The excessive wear on the frets and back of the guitar neck speaks to King’s dedication to his craft, spending hours working out slides, chord progressions, and the string bending that made King the legend he is today.
The guitar comes with outstanding family provenance. It was gifted to King’s granddaughter, Sylvia Williams-Starkes when she was a young girl and kept by her grandmother, where it remained until Williams-Starkes was an adult.
As King is a revered bluesman throughout the world and a tireless performer who famously performed 200+ shows a year well into his 70s, the joy he brought to fans and the inspiration he delivered through his electric shows all started with this guitar, one of the most important instruments in the American tradition of the Blues.
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