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More cheers than tears for bluesman

Published 24/05/2015

An 86-year-old BB King thrills fans in 2012 (AP)
An 86-year-old BB King thrills fans in 2012 (AP)

A standing ovation and fond reminiscences marked a family-and-friends memorial to the late blues great BB King 's life and legacy.

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

"Amen," they said.

King's closed coffin 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 BB 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 his 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 a cappella versions of King classics. From daughter Claudette King Robinson, it was (Someone Really Loves You) Guess Who?

Ms Williams, who lives in Houston, Texas, remembered her grandfather, who died on May 14 at his Las Vegas home aged 89, 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, who remembered being on stage when people praising the BB King show got a prideful earful from his grandfather about his kin.

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

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

"Buddy Guy and BB let me into the blues," said Sambora, long-time guitarist with of the band Bon Jovi. "That's why I'm here. He made me family."

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

King's on-stage 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 BB King taught him to do.

King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He won 15 Grammys and sold more than 40 million records worldwide.

A family feud was not directly addressed by the dozens of speakers.

Several of King's surviving children are fighting with LaVerne Toney, his business agent and power-of-attorney, who is now executor of his estate. Ms Toney watched from the back row of the chapel and did not speak during the service.

Lawyer Larissa Drohobyczer said 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 Ms Toney's actions.

The lawyer issued a statement alleging Ms Toney has misappropriated millions of dollars, had been untruthful and was unqualified to serve as executor of the BB King estate.

Ms Toney has said she was carrying out King's wishes as directed and said she would not immediately respond to the daughters' allegations.

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

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

That will be followed by a procession on Wednesday in Beale Street, Memphis, before the last leg of what granddaughter Landra Williams has dubbed The Road to Mississippi Tour - the last leg of the man born Riley B King's trip to Indianola for burial on May 30.

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