I cannot remember a time when I did not know who BB King was—and I thank my maternal grandmother for that.
I was saddened to learn last week that the legendary blues man had gone into hospice care, and suddenly I found the news had taken me back to memories of my Nana and her penchant for living life to the fullest.
Back in the day, my Nana ran a midwestern roadhouse and speakeasy. It was on the Chitlin’ Circuit, and many big names in blues and jazz stopped in to play en route to Detroit, Chicago and New York. One of those greats was BB King.
I spent many Sunday mornings with Nana listening to stories of what it was like to grow up in the Jim Crow south and of her more glamorous, exciting life in the north while The Thrill is Gone played in the background..
I finally ended up meeting the Chairman of the Board (aka King of the Blues) in 1996 when he was on a book tour for his autobiography, Blues All Around Me thanks to the photo above.
Because the line was long and winding, we were instructed not to talk with Mr. King while he autographed books—but being the contrarian that I am, I slipped a copy of the photograph into the signing page of the book that I had purchased for my grandmother.
When he opened the book and saw the photo, he broke into a big smile. “Well, look a’here—that’s me! Look how young and handsome I am, huh?”
Then peering over his glasses, his head tucked down, he said with a big smile, “She’s a fine looking woman.”
She was indeed a fine woman. I loved spending time with Nana. She was adventurous and had more physical energy than anybody else that I knew.
Sleepovers started at midnight on Saturday night, after she closed her juke joint. Then she’d take me fishing on the banks of the Maumee River or Lake Erie with her friends.
She always had a garden, growing many of the fresh ingredients that were a hallmark of her legendary cooking. Everybody headed to her house for Sunday dinner for the flavorful spread of cuisines, from Southern delicacies to duck confit and baked Alaska.
When it came to beauty routines, she didn’t have much time for luxuriating in the tub. There’s a delicate term used amongst women of the South (and in France) for certain kind of bath women would take on the go, but let’s just say protracted morning bathing rituals were not her thing.
So what did my Nana teach me?
It is important to make something—to be creative. Make a meal, create a good time, make something that you enjoy.
Don’t cut corners on the important stuff. Never skip out on moisturizing your body.
And invest in quality ingredients for a quality life. “Paying the Cost to Be the Boss” is worth every penny if you want something better.
Hanging with Nana and listening to BB King gave me the sense that music, like beauty, beckons to us from an invisible, other-worldly realm.
Beauty and music are all around us—we just need to tune in and let them work their magic. That’s her legacy to me.