B. B. KING, DEFINING BLUESMAN FOR GENERATIONS
John Fudenberg, the coroner of Clark County, Nev., said the cause was a series of small strokes attributable to Type 2 diabetes, The Associated Press reported. Mr. King, who was in hospice care, had been in poor health but had continued to perform until October, when he canceled a tour, citing dehydration and exhaustion stemming from the diabetes.
Mr. King married country blues to big-city rhythms and created a sound instantly recognizable to millions: a stinging guitar with a shimmering vibrato, notes that coiled and leapt like an animal, and a voice that groaned and bent with the weight of lust, longing and lost love.
“I wanted to connect my guitar to human emotions,” Mr. King said in his autobiography, “Blues All Around Me” (1996), written with David Ritz.
In performances, his singing and his solos flowed into each other as he wrung notes from the neck of his guitar, vibrating his hand as if it were wounded, his face a mask of suffering. Many of the songs he sang — like his biggest hit, “The Thrill Is Gone” (“I’ll still live on/But so lonely I’ll be”) — were poems of pain and perseverance.
The music historian Peter Guralnick once noted that Mr. King helped expand the audience for the blues through “the urbanity of his playing, the absorption of a multiplicity of influences, not simply from the blues, along with a graciousness of manner and willingness to adapt to new audiences and give them something they were able to respond to.”
B. B. stood for Blues Boy, a name he took with his first taste of fame in the 1940s. His peers were bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, whose nicknames fit their hard-bitten lives. But he was born a King, albeit in a shack surrounded by dirt-poor sharecroppers and wealthy landowners.
Mr. King went out on the road and never came back after one of his first recordings reached the top of the rhythm-and-blues charts in 1951. He began in juke joints, country dance halls and ghetto nightclubs, playing 342 one-night stands in 1956 and 200 to 300 shows a year for a half-century thereafter, rising to concert halls, casino main stages and international acclaim.
He was embraced by rock ’n’ roll fans of the 1960s and ’70s, who remained loyal as they grew older together. His playing influenced many of the most successful rock guitarists of the era, including Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.
Mr. King considered a 1968 performance at the Fillmore West, the San Francisco rock palace, to have been the moment of his commercial breakthrough, he told a public-television interviewer in 2003. A few years earlier, he recalled, an M.C. in an elegant Chicago club had introduced him thus: “O.K., folks, time to pull out your chitlin’s and your collard greens, your pigs’ feet and your watermelons, because here is B. B. King.” It had infuriated him.
When he saw “longhaired white people” lining up outside the Fillmore, he said, he told his road manager, “I think they booked us in the wrong place.” Then the promoter Bill Graham introduced him to the sold-out crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the chairman of the board, B. B. King.”
“Everybody stood up, and I cried,” Mr. King said. “That was the beginning of it.”
By his 80th birthday he was a millionaire many times over. He owned a mansion in Las Vegas, a closet full of embroidered tuxedos and smoking jackets, a chain of nightclubs bearing his name (including a popular room on West 42nd Street in Manhattan) and the personal and professional satisfaction of having endured.
Through it all he remained with the great love of his life, his guitar. He told the tale a thousand times: He was playing a dance hall in Twist, Ark., in the early 1950s when two men got into a fight and knocked over a kerosene stove. Mr. King fled the fire — and then remembered his $30 guitar. He ran into the burning building to rescue it.
He learned thereafter that the fight had been about a woman named Lucille. For the rest of his life, Mr. King addressed his guitars — big Gibsons, curved like a woman’s hips — as Lucille.
He married twice, unsuccessfully, and was legally single from 1966 onward; by his own account he fathered 15 children with 15 women. But a Lucille was always at his side.
Riley B. King (the middle initial apparently did not stand for anything) was born on Sept. 16, 1925, to Albert and Nora Ella King, sharecroppers in Berclair, Miss., a hamlet outside the small town of Itta Bena in the Mississippi Delta. His memories of the Depression included the sound of sanctified gospel music, the scratch of 78 r.p.m. blues records, the sweat of dawn-to-dusk work and the sight of a black man lynched by a white mob.
By early 1940 Mr. King’s mother was dead and his father was gone. He was 14 and on his own, “sharecropping an acre of cotton, living on a borrowed allowance of $2.50 a month,” wrote Dick Waterman, a blues scholar. “When the crop was harvested, Riley ended his first year of independence owing his landlord $7.54.”
In November 1941 came a revelation: “King Biscuit Time” went on the air, broadcasting on KFFA, a radio station in Helena, Ark. It was the first radio show to feature the Mississippi Delta blues, and young Riley King heard it on his lunch break at the plantation. A largely self-taught guitarist, he now knew what he wanted to be when he grew up: a musician on the air.
The King Biscuit show featured Rice Miller, a primeval bluesman and one of two performers who worked under the name Sonny Boy Williamson. After serving in the Army and marrying his first wife, Martha Denton, Mr. King, then 22, went to seek him out in Memphis, looking for work. Memphis and its musical hub, Beale Street, lay 130 miles north of his birthplace, and it looked like a world capital to him.
Mr. Miller had two performances booked that night, one in Memphis and one in Mississippi. He handed the lower-paying nightclub job to Mr. King. It paid $12.50.
Mr. King was making about $5 a day on the plantation. He never returned to his tractor.
He was a hit, and quickly became a popular disc jockey playing the blues on a Memphis radio station, WDIA. “Before Memphis,” he wrote in his autobiography, “I never even owned a record player. Now I was sitting in a room with a thousand records and the ability to play them whenever I wanted. I was the kid in the candy store, able to eat it all. I gorged myself.”
On the air in Memphis, Mr. King was nicknamed the Beale Street Blues Boy. That became Blues Boy, which became B. B. In December 1951, two years after arriving in Memphis, Mr. King released a single, “Three O’Clock Blues,” which reached No. 1 on the rhythm-and-blues charts and stayed there for 15 weeks.
He began a tour of the biggest stages a bluesman could play: the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Howard Theater in Washington, the Royal Theater in Baltimore. By the time his wife divorced him after eight years, he was playing 275 one-night stands a year on the so-called chitlin’ circuit.
There were hard times when the blues fell out of fashion with young black audiences in the early 1960s. Mr. King never forgot being booed at the Royal by teenagers who cheered the sweeter sounds of Sam Cooke.
“They didn’t know about the blues,” he said 40 years after the fact. “They had been taught that the blues was the bottom of the totem pole, done by slaves, and they didn’t want to think along those lines.”
Mr. King’s second marriage, to Sue Hall, also lasted eight years, ending in divorce in 1966. He responded in 1969 with his best-known recording, “The Thrill Is Gone,” a minor-key blues about having loved and lost. It was originally recorded in 1951 by Roy Hawkins, one of its writers, but Mr. King made it his own.
Mr. King is survived by 11 children. Three of them had recently petitioned to take over his affairs, asserting that Mr. King’s manager, Laverne Toney, was taking advantage of him. A Las Vegas judge rejected their petition this month.
The success of “The Thrill Is Gone” coincided with a surge in the popularity of the blues with a young white audience. Mr. King began playing folk festivals and college auditoriums, rock shows and resort clubs, and appearing on “The Tonight Show.”
Though he never had another hit that big, he had more than four decades of the road before him. He eventually played the world — Russia and China as well as Europe and Japan. His schedule around his 81st birthday, in September 2006, included nine cities over two weeks in Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, France and Luxembourg.
In addition to winning 15 Grammy Awards (including a lifetime achievement award), having a star on Hollywood Boulevard and being inducted in both the Rock and Roll and Blues Halls of Fame, Mr. King was among the recipients of Kennedy Center Honors in 1995 and was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2006, awards rarely associated with the blues. In 1999, in a public conversation with William Ferris, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Mr. King recounted how he came to sing the blues.
“Growing up on the plantation there in Mississippi, I would work Monday through Saturday noon,” he said. “I’d go to town on Saturday afternoons, sit on the street corner, and I’d sing and play.
“I’d have me a hat or box or something in front of me. People that would request a gospel song would always be very polite to me, and they’d say: ‘Son, you’re mighty good. Keep it up. You’re going to be great one day.’ But they never put anything in the hat.
“But people that would ask me to sing a blues song would always tip me and maybe give me a beer. They always would do something of that kind. Sometimes I’d make 50 or 60 dollars one Saturday afternoon. Now you know why I’m a blues singer.”
The Thrill is Gone.
Yes, the great and inimitable bluesman Riley “B.B.” King has left the house.
I was fortunate to see Mr. King in concert January 18, 2014. He was laid back, conversing from time to time with the crowd, and playing the blues that so many of his fans have come to love.
So many people know Mr. King by his famous “Thrill is Gone” hit. I prefer to remember him by my No. 1 favourite song of his:
He was one of a kind, truly one of the greats, as many would say it, and he will be missed.
Rest in peace, Mr. King.
Rest in peace.
ELISABETH BING, ‘MOTHER OF LAMAZE’
Her death was confirmed by her son, Peter.
Ms. Bing taught women and their spouses to make informed childbirth choices for more than 50 years. (“We don’t call it natural childbirth, but educated childbirth,” she once said.) She began her crusade at a time when hospital rooms were often cold and impersonal, women in labor were heavily sedated, and men were expected to remain in the waiting room, pacing.
Ms. Bing pushed for change. She worked directly with obstetricians, introducing them to the so-called natural childbirth methods developed by Dr. Fernand Lamaze, which incorporated relaxation techniques in lieu of anesthesia and enabled a mother to see her child coming into the world.
Along with Marjorie Karmel, Ms. Bing helped found Lamaze International, a nonprofit educational organization, and became known as “the mother of Lamaze,” championing the technique in her book “Six Practical Lessons for an Easier Childbirth” (1967) and on the lecture and television talk-show circuits.
Today, Lamaze and other natural childbirth methods are commonplace in delivery rooms, and Lamaze classes, with their emphasis on breathing techniques, are attended by an estimated quarter of all mothers-to-be and their spouses each year.
For years Ms. Bing led classes herself in hospitals and in a studio in her apartment building on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where she kept a collection of pre-Columbian and Native American fertility figurines.
Ms. Bing preferred the term “prepared childbirth” to “natural childbirth,” because she said her goal was not to eschew drugs altogether but to empower women to make informed decisions. Her mantra was, “awake and alert,” and she saw such a birth as a transformative event in a woman’s life.
“It’s an experience that never leaves you,” she told The New York Times in 2000. “It needs absolute concentration; it takes up your whole being. And you learn to use your body correctly in a situation of stress.”
“I got everything I raged against,” Ms. Bing told Ms. Epstein. “I had the works.”
Elisabeth Dorothea Koenigsberger was born in a suburb of Berlin on July 8, 1914, and grew up before the Nazis came to power. Her parents, of Jewish descent, had converted to Protestantism years before her birth, but the family nevertheless felt the virulent anti-Semitism sweeping Germany before World War II. She was kicked out of university two days into her freshman year, and two of her brothers — a historian and an architect — could not find work because of their Jewish background, she told The Journal of Perinatal Education in 2000.
She became interested in natural childbirth in 1942, when a patient handed her Grantly Dick-Read’s influential book “Childbirth Without Fear,” published that year. Dick-Read proposed that pain during childbirth was caused by a woman’s fear, and that a patient could avoid anesthesia by following a series of relaxation techniques aimed at reducing that fear.
She became intrigued and hoped to train with Dick-Read in the north of England, but with the war on and travel all but impossible, she began her own independent study, reading as much as she could and observing obstetricians and their patients — heavily anesthetized women who, she saw, had little control over the birth of their own children.
“What I saw I disliked intensely,” she said in her interview with the perinatal journal. “I thought there must be better ways.”
Ms. Bing, who drove a local ambulance during the war, began actively pursuing her interest in natural childbirth after 1949, when she moved to Jacksonville, Ill., to be with her sister, who had recently married. There, while working with handicapped children, Ms. Bing met an obstetrician who, she discovered, knew very little about natural childbirth. Resolving to champion the techniques, she began approaching obstetricians and having them send patients to her for one-on-one classes.
Ms. Bing had planned to return to England in about a year and was on her way back when she stopped in New York to visit friends. There she met Fred Max Bing, an exporter’s agent, and decided to stay. The two were married in 1951.
Besides her son, Peter, Ms. Bing is survived by a granddaughter. Her husband died in 1984.
In New York, Ms. Bing again started giving private childbirth education classes. They caught the attention of Dr. Alan Guttmacher, the chief of obstetrics at Mount Sinai Hospital, which had opened its first maternity ward in 1951. He asked her to teach a formal class there.
In her search for other childbirth alternatives, Ms. Bing began to learn about the psychoprophylactic method developed in the mid-1950s by Lamaze, a French obstetrician. Lamaze refined Dick-Read’s approach by incorporating breathing exercises he had observed in wartime Russia, where anesthesia was a luxury poor women in labor could scarcely afford.
In 1960, Ms. Bing, by then a clinical assistant professor at New York Medical College, and Ms. Karmel founded the American Society for Psychoprophylaxis in Obstetrics, known today as Lamaze International.
Ms. Karmel, an American, had become a natural-childbirth crusader after seeking out Lamaze in Paris to help her deliver her first child, and her best-selling book, “Thank You, Dr. Lamaze” (1959), largely introduced the method to Americans and drew Ms. Bing’s attention.
(In the late 1950s, Ms. Bing had persuaded Ms. Karmel to smuggle into the United States an explicit French educational film, “Naissance,” depicting a woman giving natural birth. When New York City hospitals and the 92nd Street Y refused to show it in prenatal classes — they considered it obscene — the two women held a private screening at Ms. Karmel’s home on the Upper East Side.)
At the heart of the methods the women promoted was the idea of family teamwork, with the father helping the mother by coaching her in responding to her contractions with breathing exercises and massaging her back, and being present during the delivery.
But in her book, Ms. Bing cautioned, “You certainly must not feel any guilt or sense of failure if you require some medication, or if you experience discomfort.”
Some obstetricians were skeptical of the methods and thought Ms. Bing, not being a physician, was ill qualified to be instructing patients. But the natural-childbirth movement found a receptive public. Women coming-of-age in the 1960s embraced the idea of taking a more active role in childbirth and wanted fathers to participate more as well.
“It was a tremendous cultural revolution that changed obstetrics entirely,” Ms. Bing said in an interview in 1988.
Ms. Bing was modest about her own role in the movement. “It wasn’t really a movement by Lamaze or Read or me,” she told the Disney-owned website Family.com. “It was a consumer movement. The time was ripe. The public doubted everything their parents had done.”
But she rejoiced in the outcome. “We are not being tied down anymore,” she said in 2000. “We’re not lying flat on our backs with our legs in the air, shaved like a baby. You can give birth in any position you like. The father, or anybody else, can be there. We fought for years on end for that. And now it’s commonplace. We’ve got it all.”
Dr. Lamaze, himself, did not acknowledge Ms. Bing, never responded to her requests for an interview, even though she had made his name part of the American vernacular. During their only meeting, at a lunch in New York, he directed all his comments to a male obstetrician at the table.
“I’ve never thought of myself as someone with a legacy of any kind,” she said in an interview at an Upper West Side cafe. “I hope I have made women aware that they have choices, they can get to know their body and trust their body….If my ideas supported feminist ideas, well that’s all right. But I’ve never been politically active.”
AUDREE NORTON, WHO PAVED WAY FOR DEAF ACTORS
Her death was announced by her alma mater, Gallaudet University, in Washington. At her death, Ms. Norton was an emeritus professor at Ohlone College in Fremont, where she taught English, psychology and drama.
Ms. Norton was a founding member, in 1967, of the National Theater of the Deaf. The company’s formation was a watershed moment in the employment of deaf actors, who had enjoyed steady work in the silent-film era but had been marginalized with the coming of talkies.
The National Theater of the Deaf was the first company to present regular productions in American Sign Language. Today used by hundreds of thousands of deaf people in the United States and parts of Canada, A.S.L. arose spontaneously among deaf Americans in the early 19th century. But by the 1960s, it had long been stigmatized as a crude pidgin English. At the time, its myriad grammatical complexities — as rich as, though quite different from, those of English — were only dimly understood.
Ms. Norton acted in many of the company’s productions, including two evenings of one-acts that came to Broadway in 1969. The first included an adaptation of “The Tale of Kasane,” a Japanese work, in which she played one of a pair of lovers on whom the action centers; the second included signed renditions of poems by William Blake, Lewis Carroll and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with Ms. Norton signing Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?”
In both productions, narrators translated the action into spoken English for the benefit of hearing audience members.
Ms. Norton, often described as the first deaf actor to be cast on a network television show, had guest roles on several staples of the 1960s and ’70s. Among them were “Mannix,” on which she played a deaf woman who reads the lips of a man in the act of plotting a kidnapping; the long-running sitcom “Family Affair”; and “The Streets of San Francisco.”
In the late 1970s, she and her husband, Kenneth Norton, who is also deaf, auditioned for the roles of the mother and father in “Mom and Dad Can’t Hear Me,” an ABC Afterschool Special about a hearing teenager (played by Rosanna Arquette) with deaf parents.
As Ms. Norton recounted in “Hollywood Speaks: Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry” (1988), by John S. Schuchman, the show’s casting director told her, “Of all the people, you and your husband won the roles,” but added, “But you are out because the director is afraid to use deaf actors and actresses.”
The show was broadcast in 1978, with the parents played by two hearing actors, Priscilla Pointer and Stephen Elliott. The Nortons responded with a public battle, filing a complaint with the Screen Actors Guild and rallying other deaf actors to the cause.
The protest was of no direct help to Ms. Norton, who — possibly as a consequence — did not work in television again. But by raising public awareness of the work of deaf actors, it demonstrably helped pave the way for the generation that followed, including Marlee Matlin, who won an Oscar in 1986 for “Children of a Lesser God.”
In 1989 The Los Angeles Times reported that before the fight over “Mom and Dad Can’t Hear Me,” only 33 percent of deaf characters on TV were played by deaf actors, compared with 78 percent a decade later.
Audree Lauraine Bennett was born on Jan. 13, 1927, in Great Falls, Mont. When she was 2, a bout of spinal meningitis left her deaf. With her mother, she moved to Minnesota, where she attended what is now the Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Gallaudet College, as it was then known, in 1952, and married Mr. Norton, a classmate, that year. She received a master’s in rhetoric and public address from California State University, Hayward, in 1976.
Ms. Norton began her acting career at midcentury as an on-camera model, appearing in TV commercials for Kodak and Royal Crown Cola, accompanied by a hearing actor’s voice-over.
Besides her husband, Ms. Norton’s survivors include a daughter, Nikki; a son, Kurt; two grandchildren; and a great-grandchild. Another son, Dane, died in 1990.
She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Gallaudet in 2012.