Anne Notations

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Live and well

"Work" was officially what I was doing Sunday morning and early afternoon at Brown's Commencement, and I did work - helping parents find good vantage-points from which to watch the procession, guiding trustees and honored students to their center-section seats, and keeping the stage area clear of anyone without a special badge.

It was also my good fortune to spend part of that day with one of the honorary degree recipients, my personal King of the Blues - B.B. King. I'd seen him in concert three times, beginning in 1970 and continuing through his 80th-birthday tour a year ago. I had nominated him for an honorary doctor of music degree last year, but he was unavailable; this year he accepted the trustees' invitation. My role inside University Hall Sunday afternoon officially was to help our photographer, John, set up a shoot of all nine honorands with the president and chancellor. I was blessed to have that access, because, as it happened, I was able to sit with Mr. King and some of his family for a bit before the ceremony began. I was able, finally, to attempt to tell him what his music has meant to me.

How to say it all in a few minutes? Impossible. What came out of my mouth was, to the 81-year-old legend, most likely routine fan babble: You introduced me to the blues, you showed me what it meant, you opened a door to a lifelong musical passion; thank you, thank you. Mr. King was graciousness itself, thanking me, holding my hand, and smiling as he granted my wish to kiss his cheek. He handed me a small enamel pin in the shape of his own Lucille, and it will always be more precious to me than any diamond.

Later, B.B. King sat on stage outdoors with the presidential party, gracefully accepting the honorary citation (which I had written!) and taking the microphone for a few moments to sing a tune from his 1972 album, dedicating it to the graduating class: "Someone really loves you / Guess who..." The students stood and cheered and whistled as if they were at a rock concert.

After the ceremony, John and I set up the group photograph of the honorands in the president's office. Mr. King is able to stand only for a minute or so, and he was grateful to be guided to a chair and helped to sit. In his presence, everyone from professors to captains of business to a Nobel laureate was reduced to star-struck awe and giddiness.

B.B. King is a man ("and a good man, understand"). But he is so much more to me and to anyone who loves the blues.


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