The music world mourns the passing of blues musician Willie King. Funeral services were held yesterday, March 15, in Aliceville, Alabama, for King who died of a heart attack near his home of Old Memphis, Alabama, just across the border from Mississippi, on Sunday, March 8. King was 65.
Renowned scholar and the nation's preminent writer on the blues Peter Guralnick had the following to say about King: “Willie King was unique among modern blues musicians....He combined the standard blues elements, but he sang about more than the standard blues subjects. I like all his albums, but he was one of those musicians who lived in the moment and I think you had to hear him live to get what he was all about...."
Althought King came late to the recording world, he was a legend in his own time among blues aficionados. King's blues style was influenced by local veteran blues musicians like Po' Andrew Harris, The Brook Brothers, Jessie Daniels, and "Birmingham" George Conner (with whom he made his first recording in 1999) as well as by listening to recordings of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins and John Lee Hooker. In 1967 King migrated to Chicago for a year and spent as much time as he could hanging out in the West and South Side blues clubs jamming with the likes of Howlin' Wolf and Lightnin' Hopkins.
King's musical career started on a plantation with a one-string, homemade diddly-bo (made by nailing bailing wire to a tree in the yard). Six recordings and a DVD later, along with numerous national and international festival performances, Willie King gained a substantial national and international reputation. King founded the Freedom Creek Blues Festival now in its 12th year. This year's festival, which will be held May 29-30, promises to be a tribute to his memory.
It is a bitter irony that King, who dedicated his life to playing the blues and working diligently to serve his deprived community in the black belt of West Alabama, had little money of his own and made no provisions for his burial costs. The Willie King Memorial Fund has been created for those who wish to help with funeral expenses and to create a historic marker celebrating Willie King's life and works. Contributions can be made to "The Willie King Memorial Fund," c/o West Alabama Bank, Attention Tammy, PO Box 406, Aliceville, Alabama, or through PayPal on the Willie King web site.
To learn more about award winning Alabama blues artist Willie King, visit Alabama Blues Project.
---Penne J. Laubenthal