King of blues still strong at 80

  • The Washington Examiner
  • |
  • September 14, 2005

by Karen Feld

Octogenarian blues legend and 13-time Grammy winner B.B. King hasn’t slowed down much despite complaining of a bad leg and filming commercials about diabetes treatment. He celebrates his 80th birthday on Friday. In town on Monday to receive the Living Legend Award from the Library of Congress, he’s still touring the country by bus and playing 150 dates a year, including Wolf Trap last Sunday. As for his birthday, “I hadn’t planned on doing anything, which is something I enjoy doing,” King told me, but his children and grandchildren have a big celebration planned in Las Vegas on Friday.

Prez got his own blues

One visit President Bush likely didn’t want to cancel was King’s to the White House on Monday. But disaster intervened, and the president had to take King off his schedule so he could make a third visit to the hurricane-ravaged Gulf region. The blues legend, who hails from Mississippi, says he has close friends and relatives he still hasn’t heard from since Katrina hit. One of his fondest memories of New Orleans is the Jazz Heritage Festival “because you hear music from all groups – they don’t discriminate.”

Blues: Black and about life

King said he’s made a policy of not talking about race relations or religion, but “being a blues singer is like being black twice.” He added, “We haven’t had an even break in the music world.” But he said he’s lived long enough to see that start to change. He calls Robert Cray a superstar in blues today, and sees Kenny Wayne Shepherd coming up.

Look for King’s coffee table book, “B.B. King’s Treasures,” out next week. It reveals what makes the king of blues what he is today, and it includes copies of old fliers and even some never-before-released music.

Hurdy gurdy at Govinda

Govinda Gallery in Georgetown celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, making it the oldest established private gallery in the city. Owner Chris Murray is celebrating in a big way with the first-ever exhibit of Donovan Leitch’s artwork. Yep, that’s “Mellow Yellow” Donovan, the songwriter, poet and singing sensation of the ’60s. He’ll be on hand Sept. 23 for the opening of “Sapphographs,” inspired by the lyric poetry of Sappho, the great poetess of 7th-century B.C. Greece. Donovan’s autobiography, “The Hurdy Gurdy Man,” will be out soon.

From politics to law

Victor Fazio, a popular 10-term member of Congress from California who was active in the Democratic leadership of the House and served on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, has joined Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld as a senior adviser.

A homecoming on Catfish Row

Baritone Gordon Hawkins, a D.C. native, sings the role of Porgy, the disabled beggar, in the Washington National Opera’s new 50th anniversary production of “Porgy and Bess” at the Kennedy Center beginning Oct. 29.

Court to remain divided?

As John Roberts’ confirmation hearings kick off, there’s talk about the high court all over town. D.C.-born attorney Ed Lazarus, author of “Closed Chambers,” says, “If the president replaces [Chief Justice William] Rehnquist with John Roberts and [Justice Sandra Day] O’Connor with [Attorney General] Alberto Gonzales, he hasn’t moved the court much, and he wants to move the court.” As for Justice Antonin Scalia being passed over for chief, “he’s more useful to the right wing where he sits now,” court-watcher Lazarus told me. “Over the long term, the court will remain what the nation is,” he added, “narrowly and yet deeply divided.”

By the way, when news broke of Rehnquist’s passing, Justice Stephen Breyer was at a dinner at publisher Mort Zuckerman’s East Hampton home.

Aloha spirit in action

Sighting: Sen. Dan Akaka, D-Hawaii, jumped on stage at Wolf Trap Saturday evening to sing a Hawaiian number with The Brothers Cazimero. “He’s like Superman to us,” said Roland Cazimero.

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