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BB King’s Lessons For Young Lawyers

By Renwei Chung* – B.B. King passed away at eighty-nine years young. Even though he is gone, his legendary single-note runs will echo for generations. Although he became music royalty, he remained true to his roots.

Every year, King returned to Indianola, Mississippi to perform the blues for his hometown. Even though he was an international star, he never forgot where he came from. B.B. King’s musical career was composed of authenticity, adversity, and a tremendous work ethic. A successful legal career could have the same sight-reading, prima vista.

Riley B. King beat long odds to become the legendary musician we know as the late B.B. King. He was born on September 16, 1925, to sharecropper parents in a long-gone cabin along a creek. He was raised by his grandmother.

He made 75 cents a day picking cotton until and played music on a homemade guitar until he was advanced fifteen dollars for a real one. B.B. King once recalled in an interview for Ebony magazine, “My father was born on the plantation, I was born on the plantation. I wanted more for my children. This—the guitar—was my way out.”

He took a risk in borrowing money to purchase a guitar. Throughout his career, he would take many more risks. Many people who entered the legal profession took a giant leap of faith that it would work out. For some of us it has, for others it hasn’t yet.

If you aren’t where you want to be, don’t be afraid to make a change and take a risk. B.B. King’s career is a testament to the reward of risk-taking. Fortune favors the bold and King was well compensated for all his efforts.

B.B. King never abandoned his authenticity in an attempt to top the charts, even when other genres gained more notoriety and attention. He stayed true to his roots and as a reward for his patience (or stubbornness), rock musicians began coming to him for collaborations. As they say, real recognize real. English musician Eric Clapton wrote in his 2008 autobiography (affiliate link) that B.B. King “is without a doubt the most important artist the blues has ever produced, and the most humble and genuine man you would ever wish to meet.”

Like B.B. King, to attain true success in life and our careers we should remain true to ourselves, stay humble, and never forget where we came from.

As King wrote in his autobiography, Blues All Around Me (affiliate link), “I’ve put up with more humiliation than I care to remember. Touring a segregated America – forever being stopped and harassed by white cops hurt you most ‘cos you don’t realize the damage. You hold it in. You feel empty, like someone reached in and pulled out your guts. You feel hurt and dirty, less than a person.”

Despite the experience of touring a segregated America, B.B. King carried an optimistic attitude and used his talents to connect with a diverse group of fans. Just like B.B. King, our attitude can have an overwhelming influence on our success in life. Many of us could never compare our problems to B.B. King’s problems, but there is no reason we can’t compare our attitudes to his attitude.

King performed more than 250 concerts a year on average for almost 70 years, nearly 18,000 concerts in 90 countries during his lifetime. Until the end, he loved playing the blues for his fans. B.B. King would be the first to admit he wasn’t perfect, but I’d argue he perfected his craft.

An interviewer once asked John Lennon what is it he would like to do, and he said, “play guitar like B.B. King.” We should all be so lucky to play guitar like B.B. King, we should all be so lucky to master our craft. In truth, it will take much more than luck to master our craft. Just like B.B. King worked his ass off to have a successful career, we will have to work our asses off to have successful careers.

Because of B.B. King’s authenticity, his legendary single-note runs will echo for generations. Because of the way he handled adversity throughout his life and his tremendous work ethic throughout his career, we are all left with the blues.

*Rengwai Chung is a 2L at Southern Methodist University School of Law. He has an undergraduate degree from Michigan State University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. This article was republished from AbovetheLaw

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