New York - Blues legend B.B. King, whose crisp but powerful guitar licks made him among the instrument's greatest masters and a towering influence over generations of musicians, has died at 89.
An impoverished son of a Mississippi sharecropper who turned into one of music's iconic figures for a half century, King passed away late Thursday, his official website said in a brief statement that cited one of his most famous songs "The Thrill is Gone."
Also read: Fans threaten to force-feed Jesse Jagz
King had maintained a touring schedule that put to shame much younger artists until late last year when his health declined.
He had issued a final statement on May 1 saying that he was entering hospice care at his home in Las Vegas.
"The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend," said President Barack Obama, who recalled once being persuaded to sing "Sweet Home Chicago" at the White House with King.
"B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever. And there's going to be one killer blues session in heaven tonight," Obama said.
Artists across genres credited King as one of the defining forces in 20th-century music and recalled his famous geniality.
"There are not many left that play it in the pure way that B.B. did," said rock-blues guitarist Eric Clapton, who thanked King for his inspiration in a short video that drew five million views on Facebook in its first hours.
Lenny Kravitz, a younger star guitarist and singer, said of King on Twitter: "Anyone could play a thousand notes and never say what you said in one."
The Canadian singer Bryan Adams called King "one of the best blues guitarists ever, maybe the best. He could do more on one note than anyone."
Bringing and expanding the blues
Born in poverty as Riley B. King, the future legend started to work the cotton fields at age seven but found his life transformed when a plantation owner gave him a guitar at 12.
King later christened his trusty guitar Lucille a reference to a brawl over a woman between two men that set off a fire though which King rushed to save his instrument.
King helped shape the modern blues a narrative-driven, often melancholy genre, with roots in African American spirituals, that emerged fully during Emancipation from slavery.
But King also managed to bring the blues to a white and international audience, setting in motion the direction of rock.
He was invited in 1968 to perform at San Francisco's Fillmore West, a haven for hippies, and a year later reached a wider audience when he opened 18 US concerts for the Rolling Stones.
"The Thrill is Gone" was characteristic of King's blues driven by angst but also his warm demeanor, interspersed by biting guitar licks.
In 2003, Rolling Stone magazine ranked him the third greatest guitar legend, after Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman and just ahead of Eric Clapton.
King developed his distinctive style in the 1950s as he toured incessantly with his band. A natural entertainer on stage, he wove stories from the poor South with tales and jokes from his often colorful love life.
His guitar playing focused not on speed or on sweeping chords but instead on well-chosen, sharp single notes.
He never took up the slide guitar like most Delta bluesmen, but substituted with a vibrato.
King in his prime put in more than 300 concerts a year, despite suffering Type II diabetes for the past two decades.
But fans noticed that his recent performances became increasingly erratic and he finally stopped touring after falling ill at a show in Chicago in October.
"I have a disease which I believe might be contagious," he told AFP in an interview in 2007. "It's called 'need more.'"
But another reason King stayed on the road was in hopes of keeping the blues alive.
"With the exception of satellite radio today I don't hear no blues playing on the radio," he told AFP. "So one of the reasons I travel a lot is so I can carry the music to the people. Because if I don't carry it, it don't go on the air."
Nonetheless, he was cited as an influence by a who's who of musical greats including Clapton, who recorded the 2000 album "Riding With the King" with him.
The album won a Grammy, one of 15 racked up by King during his career.
Other famous collaborations included the song "When Love Comes to Town" with U2.
Despite King's decades of recognition, his final days were clouded by unseemly scenes amid an apparent dispute between his family and manager over his care.