B.B. King Returns to a Mississippi Home, and Its Warm Embrace

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An image of B.B. King at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Miss.
Credit Andrea Morales for The New York Times

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INDIANOLA, Miss. — B.B. King, the man some called the ambassador of the blues, came home this week for the last time.

After audiences with presidents and a pope, after concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and the Cook County Jail, after TV commercials for Toyota and Burger King, after Kennedy Center honors and 15 Grammys, after living through — and belting out — tales of love, heartbreak and triumph, Mr. King returned to this small, swampy city where he once picked cotton and busked for dollars on a rowdy, juke-lined downtown street.

On Friday morning, his body lay in a bronze coffin, dressed in a purple satin shirt and a floral-print tuxedo jacket, flanked by a pair of black Gibson guitars and two Mississippi Highway Patrol officers who stood heads cast downward.

At 6 a.m., fans, acquaintances and fellow musicians began lining up at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center, the slick $15 million monument to his story, a kind of blues fable. At 10 a.m., they began filing past the man who had lived it.

“B.B.’s been in my life, in my father’s life, in my mother’s life,” said McClinton Samuels, 72, a retired corrections officer from New Orleans. “He was one of the best I’ve ever heard.”

Mr. King, one of the most distinctive guitar players in the history of his idiom, died May 14 at age 89 in Las Vegas, where he had lived for many years. He was born in a cabin in the tiny town of Berclair, Miss. But he had long embraced Indianola, a city of 10,000 about 18 miles from his birthplace, as a kind of spiritual hometown, one he returned to year after year to play concerts, commune with old friends and subtly inspire — or so he hoped — a spirit of racial reconciliation in a place long haunted by the cruelties of racial segregation.

“He didn’t go into a lot of detail here about his treatment by white folks,” said Carver A. Randle, 73, an African-American lawyer who represented Mr. King locally. “He wanted to heal people through his music. He wanted the people of his hometown to get together. And he wanted to be a part of that.”

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