MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Reuters) - With music, singing and tears, hundreds of mourners in Memphis bade farewell to blues giant B.B. King as his casket, accompanied by his legendary guitar, Lucille, began a drive to his final resting place in Mississippi.
Intermittent thunderstorms dumped rain on mourners, including local dignitaries and King friends and family, as they gathered for the procession down Beale Street, a historic avenue lined with blues clubs and restaurants.
A brass band marched before the hearse, playing “When the Saints Go Marching In,” giving the procession the air of a lively Southern jazz funeral.
Mourners called out “B.B.,” as the procession passed by. In front of the hearse, a weeping Rodd Bland, son of the late blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland, carried the latest iteration of Lucille, King’s famous Gibson guitar.
King died May 14 at age 89 at his home in Las Vegas. His remains were flown on Wednesday to Memphis, where he first achieved fame as a singer and disc jockey known as the Beale Street Blues Boy in the 1940s.
From Memphis, King’s remains will be driven down U.S. Route 61 - often dubbed “The Blues Highway” - to his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi, for a public viewing on Friday and burial on Saturday.
“I had to be here today. It was gorgeous to see all these people out here to see the great man,” said Sam Rowe, a 25-year-old law student from Melbourne, Australia, who has been doing an internship in Texas and was touring the blues trail from New Orleans and had just visited Indianola.
“B.B. King was laying heavy on my mind. I love blues music and I came along to pay respect to an incredible man.”
Nevada officials are conducting a homicide investigation into King’s death after two of his daughters claimed he was poisoned by longtime associates. An attorney for King’s estate has called the allegations unfounded.
Writing by Fiona Ortiz; Editing by Bill Trott