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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Hundreds of music fans are expected to let the good times roll Sunday at the 35th annual B.B. King Homecoming Festival, a free gathering that the legendary bluesman started in his hometown of Indianola, Mississippi.
Performers this year include a country blues band called the North Mississippi Allstars; a Bentonia, Mississippi, blues guitarist and singer, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes; and a children’s choir based at the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola.
King played at the free festival dozens of times. He drew a larger than usual crowd in 2014, which was already billed as the final homecoming performance for the King of the Blues, who was 88 at the time.
While King was still alive, organizers were planning this year’s event as a tribute to him. Since his death on May 14, they are calling it a memorial celebration.
The festival is held on the grounds of the museum that opened in 2008.
“We certainly will miss his infectious smile and warmth this year, but we have no doubt he would want us to carry on with this tradition,” the museum’s executive director, Dion Brown, said in a statement about the festival.
Scott Barretta is a researcher and writer for the Mississippi Blues Trail and helped establish the B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center. He also attended the B.B. King Homecoming Festival many times. He said the outdoor shows were typically much more casual than King’s concerts that were played in larger, fancier venues.
During the homecoming shows, King would invite local children onstage to sing and dance.
“When B.B. would come back, he was always so free with his time,” Barretta said in an interview Friday. “He may have had handlers, but they didn’t stop him from shaking hands with everyone or talking to everyone. It really was a homecoming.”
After the homecoming performance in the early evening, the hottest ticket in Indianola was to see King perform after midnight in Club Ebony, an Indianola night spot that had been a hub of the blues since the late 1940s.
King also performed free for many years at the Medgar Evers Homecoming Festival that started in central Mississippi in 1973 to honor the memory of Medgar Evers, the Mississippi NAACP leader who was assassinated in Jackson in 1963. King was friends for decades with Medgar Evers’ brother, Charles Evers.
Barretta said King probably could have made hundreds of thousands of dollars touring in other places during the weeks he played free concerts, “but instead he gave back to Mississippi.”
King was 89 when he died at his home in Las Vegas. Fans lined up for a public viewing of his body in Las Vegas on Friday, and a private memorial service was being held in the city Saturday.
His body is being flown back to Memphis, Tennessee, on Wednesday, and a tribute is scheduled that day at W.C. Handy Park on Beale Street.
A public viewing is scheduled for Friday at the museum that bears his name in Indianola, with a funeral Saturday at nearby Bell Grove Missionary Baptist Church. He will be buried during a private service on the museum grounds.
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