LAS VEGAS >> B.B. King played tens of thousands of gigs around the world and often said he was blessed to play for presidents and the common folk.
On Saturday, the music legend will be mourned and praised as the King of the Blues and father to 15 children during a family-and-friends memorial in Las Vegas, where he died May 14 at age 89.
“He was the best,” said 83-year-old alto sax blues player Earl “Good Rockin” Brown, one of the first of more than 1,000 people who viewed King’s open casket during a public viewing on Friday. Brown remembered being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1990, the same time as King, who won 15 Grammys, sold more than 40 million records worldwide and was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“Everyone else copied after him,” Brown said.
Some of King’s 11 surviving adult children are feuding with LaVerne Toney, his longtime business agent and power-of-attorney, who is now executor of his estate.
Attorney Larissa Drohobyczer, representing a group of heirs, said Saturday that she met with five adult King daughters — Patty King, Michelle King, Karen Williams, Barbara King Winfree and Claudette King Robinson — before issuing a statement saying they’ll contest the blues legend’s will and the actions of Toney.
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.
“I’m hopeful today will be calm and peaceful and respectful,” she said.
A judge said this month that two investigations found no evidence that King was mistreated or abused.
It was King’s legacy that remained the main focus Friday, when his public viewing drew generations of fans to stream past the body.
Ushers ran out of 900 printed cards bearing King’s dates of birth and death and lyrics to his signature song, “The Thrill is Gone.”
A steady string of King’s hit songs — “Everyday I Have the Blues,” ”Sweet Little Angel,” ”Why I Sing the Blues” — never stopped as ushers directed people to move past a casket framed by floral arrangements and two of his guitars, always called Lucille.
Another one of his 11 surviving children, daughter Rita Washington, greeted some of the 350 people in line when the doors opened.
“Dad is just loving this,” she said. “This is part of his homecoming.”
Hours later, another daughter, Shirley King, of Chicago, expressed anger about the venue and the viewing. She said she thought there should have been seats for people to sit and talk, not just an aisle to shuffle past the body.
People who brought guitars had to leave them outside. No photos were permitted, and ushers stopped several people from trying.
But Marilyn and Tommy Burress weren’t disappointed.
The couple from Milwaukee knew when they heard B.B. King had died that they had to pay their final respects. They were in Las Vegas this week for Tommy Burress’ 72nd birthday.
“It’s inspiring to see how many lives he touched,” Tommy Burress, a retired auto worker, said afterward, “how many people loved his music and loved his attitude — friendliness, friendship and love of the people.”
A few hours later, Shirley King, who performs as Daughter of the Blues, hosted and headlined a rollicking Friday night tribute that drew several hundred people to the Brooklyn Bowl rock ‘n’ roll venue on the Las Vegas Strip.
Saturday’s memorial will be followed by the previously scheduled 35th annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival in his Mississippi hometown, Indianola.
A procession Wednesday on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee, is scheduled to begin the last leg of his trip back to Indianola for burial May 30.