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B.B. King breaks ground on his museum

Blues great hopes facility will inspire new generation of musicians
/ Source: The Associated Press

Blues icon B.B. King joined local and state dignitaries Friday for the groundbreaking of a $10 million museum honoring him in a Mississippi Delta town where he used to live.

King said he was "happy and nervous" about festivities and said he hopes the museum, as a whole, will inspire a new generation of musicians and artists.

"It will be a lot better for students to hear it from us ... to have something," King said.

Among those attending the groundbreaking were Lt. Gov. Amy Tuck, House speaker Billy McCoy and former Govs. William Winter and Ray Mabus.

Hundreds of people sat under blistering sun for a glimpse of King, who was only at the podium for about two minutes.

Riley King was born Sept. 16, 1925, on a cotton plantation in Berclair, outside Itta Bena. He moved to Indianola in 1943.

King earned the nickname "B.B." — for Beale Street Blues Boy or just Blues Boy — during his early career in Memphis, Tenn.

The 18,000-square-foot B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center will be built around a cotton gin where King once worked.

"I had this thought that I would build house and at my death it would open as a museum," King said during a news conference after the ceremony.

He said Indianola officials called him and told him they could do more than that.

Need to raise more money for museum
Officials said they still need to raise more money for the museum. At least part of the funding is expected to come from the state. During a recent special session, the state House included $2 million for the museum in a bond bill that eventually failed.

Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, told those attending the groundbreaking that the museum is "the first real material act we have made to acknowledge the great heritage of Mr. King."

The museum will showcase four phases of King's life, from his years in the Delta to the present. It is scheduled to open in 2007.

Indianola Mayor Arthur Marble said that with the museum, his small town of 12,000 is "poised to leapfrog into the future."

Marble anticipates several spinoff businesses, including hotels and restaurants. He said there's no doubt that tourism will increase, based on the turnout each year for the concert King gives at a local park.

"To give you an idea of what we're talking about, last year the chamber cleared $70,000 for that homecoming concert. The man is making that type of contribution to the community," Marble said.

Those attending the ceremony got to see an artist's drawings of the museum and local officials unveiled a portrait of King, painted by Steve Kaufman of Los Angeles, an artist who was a former assistant to Andy Warhol.

On Saturday, the 42nd annual Medgar Wiley Evers-B.B. King Mississippi Homecoming Concert in Indianola will feature King, Little Milton Campbell, Bobby Rush and Eddie Cotton, among others.