I had never seen him perform, but knew him through local blues artists Rick Asherson and Debbie Bond, the husband and wife blues artists who play at the shop on Art Night. In this photo from the Tuscaloosa News, that's Rick on keyboards in the blue shirt and Debbie on guitar between Rick and Willie.
Born in Mississippi, he moved to west Alabama with his sharecropping parents at a young age and started playing a one-string guitar at age nine. His career took him from juke joints in Alabama and Mississippi to blues festivals all over the world. He was named Blues Artist of the Year by Living Blues Magazine in 2004 and the Alabama State Council on the Arts is scheduled to present him with its Folk Heritage Award in May. Now that will be done posthumously.
Beyond awards and recognition, Willie King was also a consummate blues man. He found time to teach and talk to children about the blues in school programs and blues camps offered by the Alabama Blues Project. That's how we heard about him.
We made him a birthday cake last year with a red guitar on top.
King performed his last concert Saturday night in Columbus, Mississippi. He will be missed but lives on through his music. Hear him play "I am the blues" on myspace.
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The funeral is scheduled for Sunday, March 15th, and will be held at the City Hall in Aliceville, Alabama, with viewing the day before at Lavender's Funeral Service, Aliceville. Timing and other details will be posted, when available, at Willie King's web site, www.willie-king.com.