B.B. King, who died in 2015 at age 89, gets the royal treatment from his biographer, and rightly so. We get it all, a life in full ... The author is especially good at showing that, while King was born in Mississippi and grew up when early legends of the genre were active, he wasn’t shaped just in the usual way ... This is de Visé’s triumph, explaining how B.B. went from being the 'weakest link' at his first recording session to leading his own blues orchestra. How he became a guitarist young players studied and jazz greats like Miles Davis adored. How he became an innovator on his way to becoming an icon ... good and worthy and something more: essential.
De Visé ably chronicles how, in the mid-1960s, when the blues had fallen out of favor with Black audiences, the British blues revival—led by Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, and Peter Green—brought King’s music to white listeners ... Daniel de Visé has produced here a biography befitting B.B. King’s status as the premier blues guitarist of all time. He tells the story in straightforward prose, is sympathetic but not uncritical of his subject, and focuses on what is important: the music. You could search fruitlessly to find a better way to while away a few hours than to read King of the Blues while listening to some B.B. King.
... lack of awareness about how Black people process pain, especially in front of White people, reflects an irredeemable flaw of de Visé’s book. He only sees King as other White people see him. Although de Visé uses Black sources to flesh out King’s experiences, he relies on White writers...to provide historical context for the blues and to make connections between King’s life and work ... De Visé frames the arc of King’s career wholly in terms of gaining White acceptance ... Also troubling are the ways the book downplays racism. When four African Americans are attacked at a Woolworth’s sit-in, de Visé uses the almost quaint descriptor 'hooligans' in reference to the perpetrators. In one particularly harmful passage, de Visé shows his ignorance of racial stereotypes ... This thoroughly researched but flawed biography is yet more evidence that there needs to be a serious reckoning at publishing houses regarding who gets significant, career-sustaining deals to write about African American music.