I grew up in a fairly well integrated community and my parents were conscientious about making sure that some of my early playmates were black kids so that I never really learned to see much of a distinction between white and black families. But my first real foray into genuine black culture didn’t come until I was fifteen years old and was visiting one of my older brothers at his home in Washington DC. He and his wife took me to see a B.B. King concert near the Washington Zoo. We were virtually the only white people in the audience and it was definitely a much different experience from when I later saw King perform for largely white audiences. The only way I can describe it is that it was like being in church.

Not my church, mind you, which was a staid Episcopalian affair serving the upper crust of Princeton society. No, more like the black churches you see depicted in many movies, where everyone is dressed to the nines and there’s singing and dancing and an overwhelming sense of joy.

King and his audience bantered back and forth all night with lots of call and response. The music was fantastic, but the experience was wonderful and something that changed me for the better. I never forgot what it was like to be in that environment and feel the excitement and the solidarity in that audience.

I didn’t go into that experience raw, exactly, because my other brother had been playing me B.B. King albums for years already. I still can almost recite King’s performance at the Cook County jail. I went into it a fan of his music, and I came out of it a fan of the people and the culture.

B.B. King meant a lot to me, and I told many people over the last fifteen years that he should first on their list of performers to see before he got too old to tour.

I’ll miss him, but I’m not sad. How could I be sad about B.B. King?

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