Daughter Of Blues Legend B.B. King Has Melodies Of Her Own

Claudette King grew up listening to her father's music and attending as many of his concerts as she could, to spend time with him. Now, years later, the daughter of blues legend, BB King, is a singer in her own right. Host Michel Martin speaks with King about her new album, "We're Onto Something", and her relationship with her father.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

It's no easy thing to follow in your father's footsteps, especially if your father is one of the iconic living bluesmen of all time, the legendary B.B. King. In fact, following in the footsteps of a legendary bluesman could in itself be the basis for a 12-bar blues song. Yet, B.B. King's youngest daughter, Claudette King, has found a voice of her own. She's put together a joyful and sensual debut album. It's a contemporary mix of blues, R&B, pop and jazz. And it has a playful name: "We're Onto Something."

(Soundbite of song, "Can I Walk You to Your Car?")

Ms. CLAUDETTE KING (Musician): (Singing) Little by little, step by step. One laugh, one kiss at a time. Nothing is certain, but if I have to bet, I bet my very last time. We're onto something. We're onto something. Baby, we're onto something and it sure does feel like we love. We're onto something.

MARTIN: That's a song entitled "Can I Walk You to Your Car?" It's from Claudette King's new CD. It's out this week. And she's with us now from the studios of Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. Welcome. Thank you. Congratulations.

Ms. KING: Thank you. Thank you. Glad to be here.

MARTIN: Now, we are calling this your debut album, but it really isn't. You had a previous album called "Whiskey Makes Me Sin," which we can all understand.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: So, are you not claiming that one anymore? What happened?

Ms. KING: Yes, I am. No, but every once in a while you still get a little bit of that whiskey and you do sin, so, yes, I am.

MARTIN: So how come you're calling this your debut? It's just you feel like this is really your voice or...

Ms. KING: Because at the time when that came out, it was basically played in Europe, overseas, so no one really heard the songs. Though, now you're going to be hearing me. It'll be a little bit of a different type of music because that was basically jazz and blues, but this one will be a mixture of everything. So when you hear this - I'll come back again with "Whiskey Makes Me Sin." Now, I'm not going to let it go, but I'm just going to bring out something else that's a little bit different.

MARTIN: This really - you feel this one really sounds like you. This is really you.

Ms. KING: Yes, this is. Well, the other one was me too. It was me too. But I just - I don't know, I feel more relaxed with this one.

MARTIN: OK. Now, why did you decide to record this right now? You've had another life, I mean, you've been doing other things. What made this the right time?

Ms. KING: Because my children are all grown and, you know, my dad has been singing for a while. So I said, I'd better get out there right now because my dad's going to be there for awhile, but I, you know, he might retire soon. If he retired soon, he's still got to have the - the King legacy has got to continue to, you know, sing and be and existing for the world here. And I feel that I'm that one.

MARTIN: OK. Now, I wanted to ask, though, about growing up as B.B. King's daughter. He had to have been gone a lot. How much time did you really get to see him when you were growing up?

Ms. KING: Well, the only time that I get to see my father is when he comes to town and then when he is in town, I go backstage and first I see the performance and I go backstage and I talk to him about five or 10 minutes. And then his fans are there and I'm sitting there with him, but, you know, that's the kind of relationship we had, you know, just in and out, in and out. So not a normal relationship.

MARTIN: That sounds like it could be a blues song. But...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: You know what? I should write that down.

MARTIN: Yeah, I mean, it doesn't sound like a very, I don't know, satisfying father/daughter relationship. Sounds like you've made your peace with it. But...

Ms. KING: Yes, yes, yes. And, you know, every time he's around, I just can't wait to go see him so I could at least get a big hug and a kiss because he -and then he always introduces, he always introduces me to his fans, which I love that, but basically what I'm there for is him, just to hug and kiss him.

MARTIN: Have you ever thought about writing about that? Because there is still, forgive me to be in your business here, but I still feel a little bit of a longing. I know you appreciate the relationship you have and the musical legacy, but have you ever thought about writing about that - a song about that?

Ms. KING: Not exactly, no. But since we're talking about it, yes, I think I will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: I think I will, because that is a story to tell - which is the blues.

MARTIN: All right. Well, tell us about the album. Tell us about - was there a unifying theme or idea, something that pulls it all together?

Ms. KING: Well, at first, when I started working on this album, I felt like I was all alone. So I came up with the title, "It's Easier Alone." Then I started singing it, singing these different types of music, getting involved, feeling a little bit of a different type of feeling with - inside. Then I said no, let's change the title. Let's do "We're Onto Something." This is something new. This is me. So let me come out that way, instead of being alone.

MARTIN: All right. Yeah. That's a little bit more upbeat.

Ms. KING: Yeah. Yeah.

MARTIN: And one of the songs is "Isn't Peace the Least We Can Do," and I understand that you're going to sing it for us.

Ms. KING: Yeah.

MARTIN: But I'd love to hear a little bit more about it before you do.

Ms. KING: Well, I am a Christian, and I feel that this is a message that Jesus shed his blood for all of us. Now it's my turn to speak about how I feel, you know, how it has affected me and what things can occur to make things better for us. So let me tell the story in my words and in my song. And so...

MARTIN: Okay. So are you ready? You're going to give us a little bit?

Ms. KING: I'm ready.

MARTIN: All right. Here is.

Ms. KING: Yeah.

MARTIN: This is called "Isn't Peace the Least We Can Do." It's from Claudette King's new album, "We're Onto Something." Here she is.

(Soundbite of song, "Isn't Peace the Least We Can Do")

Ms. KING: (Singing) God gave us a son to spread the word. God gave us a son to spread the word. Love your fellow man, nobody hurt. War and fighting, children, they're dying young. Oh, war and fighting, children dying young.

That's your anger (unintelligible). People, don't you think it's time? Oh, people, don't you think it's time we push war and hatred out our minds, being Jesus died for me and you? Oh, being Jesus died for me and you, isn't it the least that we can do?

All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: All right. Thank you. All right.

Ms. KING: You're welcome. You're welcome.

MARTIN: All right. So we know it's you. No doubt. No doubt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: No dubbing here. Okay, Miss Thing. Well, that's great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, one of the things I was thinking about listening to the album is it does have some classic blues sounds, but there are a lot of different musical influences in it. Do you agree?

Ms. KING: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: That it has some different flavors, some different flavors and tastes. So what are some of your influences, besides your dad? We all know about your dad.

Ms. KING: Okay, well, Aretha Franklin, Beyonce, R. Kelly. Oh, my goodness, the list goes on and on. Ray Charles...

MARTIN: R. Kelly, huh?

Ms. KING: Yes. R. Kelly. Yeah. I really love his type of music. I love the R&B music, and I have - came up with a song, I started writing the lyrics to a song that I'm going to put together, and I would love to do it with him because I got a little thing for the man, okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Okay. All right. Well, we'll...

Ms. KING: But I love his music.

MARTIN: We'll leave that alone with any other...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: ...other attributes that you may bring to that collaboration. Well, all right. Well, let's play speaking of that kind of the joy that you obviously have in the work and in the music, let's play something from the CD. Let's play "Playing with My Friends," speaking of you got a lot of friends and people that you like and that you love to collaborate with. Here is "Playing with My Friends." Here it is.

(Soundbite of song, "Playing with My Friends")

Ms. KING: (Singing) I'm gonna call up some of my buddies, and a few of the men I know. I'm gonna rent a hall and get them all and, put on a heck of a show. Make sure we got a kitchen with an oven and a stove. We'll all get in there cooking, and then I'll open the door. Playing with my friends. Playing with my friends. Playing with my friends. We'll have a good time, playing with my friends.

MARTIN: So what kind of playing you going to be doing?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: At first I said, oh, I love this, because this is what I like to do, get together with my friends with a kitchen and a stove. It reminds me of when I was in college and, you know, you had to go hunt for a kitchen...

Ms. KING: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...so you could actually cook what you wanted. But what else you going to be doing?

Ms. KING: No, just doing a lot mingling around and, you know, just enjoying friends and family, you know. That's basically what I mean by playing with my friends.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, people think I think a lot about blues as being kind of down and woe is me and my man done me wrong, and there is some of that on this CD, but a lot of it is this kind of upbeat, jumpy, let's go have some fun. And I'm wondering if that was intentional, or just the way it came out?

Ms. KING: No, it's intentional. You know, blues is like I said before, I've told many that it's a story. It's a story about your life, what is happening in your life. Yes, we have all had downs in our life, but we all have ups, too. So sometimes we need to hear the ups in the life, and it's not always, you know, that woe-is-me thing. It is also yay, it's me, too. So...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. We're visiting with Claudette King. She's just out with her debut album. It's called "We're onto Something." And if you recognize both the kind of musical influence and the name, yup, you have it right. She is the daughter of B.B. King, in addition to being a fabulous woman in her own right. But if you are looking for that heartbreaker song about how some people just ain't right, it is on this album, too. And, well, how about this - well, do you want to pick one? I was going to pick one. I was going to pick "This Ain't How I Planned It." What do you think about that?

Ms. KING: That's exactly what I was going to tell you.

MARTIN: Okay. All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: We'll play a little bit of that. Here it is.

(Soundbite of song, "This Ain't How I Planned It")

Ms. KING: (Singing) I always thought it would be so easy, find a man and make him a home. Mm. Well, I, I got this big old house now, but, you know what? But I'm in it all, all alone. This ain't how I planned it. This ain't how I planned it. Sitting here all by myself. This ain't how I planned it, no, no.

MARTIN: Again, that's "This Ain't How I Planned It." You know, I have to ask: Any of these sad songs come from real life?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: Yes, you know, it does. Yes. Yes. Yes. But right now, it's a little bit I'm in the vain of "Playing with My Friends" right now.

MARTIN: Okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. KING: I'm over the, this ain't how I planned it. That's gone.

MARTIN: Okay. Oh, well. Well, you know, what goes around comes around.

Ms. KING: That's right. That's right.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: You know, one of the things I'm wondering is that we associate - of course, you know, your dad is one of the icons of blues, and there are so many amazing blues singers that people still appreciate. I'm thinking about, you know, Koko Taylor. I'm thinking about, you know, Etta James. I mean, some of this - but a lot of that generation is leaving us, and I do wonder if you feel that your generation, mine, the next generation is still going to appreciate the blues. Do you think it's something that lives on? And I do wonder whether if your dad weren't B.B. King, do you think you'd still be singing the blues, or do you think you might be attractive to some other genre?

Ms. KING: I think that I would still be singing the blues. I - like you said, I'd probably be in a more of an upbeat type of blues instead of a woe-is-me. But, still, every once in a while, I think I would, you know, went back to that old style of type of blues is - woe is me, because there is a lot of woe-is-me people out there that need to hear it, sometimes.

In fact, what you were saying about artists that were here before are slowly fading, the one particular song on my CD is "Too Little Too Late." The person that actually sung that was Ruth Brown. So I'm like - it's like a remake. And so, I'm like trying to let everybody know that even though the way that she sung it, you know, it was still powerful. So I'm going to do it my way and make it just as powerful as hers, and hoping that she honor me by me honoring her, you know, singing "Too Little Too Late."

MARTIN: But do you think, though, that younger people are still going to want to - your kids' generation, for example. Are they still going to want to hear the blues?

Ms. KING: Yeah, I think so. Because even though they're young, they still go through the same thing we go through. It's just maybe - and they hear it in a little bit in R&B, but since I've been going to my father's concerts, I've been seeing a lot of young people there that enjoy the blues as much as any other type of music. So I think, yeah. I think so.

MARTIN: Well, congratulations.

Ms. KING: Thank you.

MARTIN: Do you have a favorite song on the new album? I know that's like asking you to pick among your children, but...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: What song should we go out on? Is there a favorite on there?

Ms. KING: Yeah. Go out with "Too Little Too Late."

MARTIN: Claudette King's debut album is called "We're Onto Something." And you might have heard this in her musicality, she is the daughter of legendary bluesman B.B. King, but she's out here doing her thing. And we were grateful to have her from Georgia Public Broadcasting in Atlanta. And we're going to go out on - what are we going out on, again?

Ms. KING: "Too Little Too Late."

MARTIN: "Too Little Too Late." All right. Claudette King, thank you so much for joining us.

Ms. KING: Thank you. Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Too Little Too Late")

Ms. KING: (Singing) It's 4 AM, baby. You've been out all night. You got home just in time to hear me say goodbye. My mind's made up, and I swear today, this time my heart won't get in the way. I don't doubt that you're sorry for what...

MARTIN: And for those who are fans of Claudette King's dad, B.B. King, he's bringing his signature sound, as well as his almost equally famous guitar, Lucille, to the National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony tonight in Washington.

And that's our program for today.

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