Freddie King, blues musician, was born Freddie Christian in Gilmer, Texas, on September 3, 1934. He was the son of J. T. Christian and Ella Mae (or May) King. At the age of six he began playing guitar with his mother and an uncle, Leon King. As a youth he purchased a Roger's acoustic guitar with money he had earned picking cotton.
He moved to Chicago with his family in 1949. At the age of sixteen he snuck into a Chicago blues club and sat in with the house band, which included Howlin' Wolf. King developed his style under the influence of Lightnin' Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, B. B. King (not a relative), Louis Jordan, and others. He married Jessie Burnett by 1952. By day he worked in a steel mill, and he played shows at night. King formed his own band, the Every Hour Blues Boys, which included Eddie Taylor, Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Lee Robinson, and Sonny Scott. He recorded songs on the Parrot Label in 1953.
During the 1950s King played local clubs and also worked with the Sonny Cooper Band and Earlee Payton's Blues Cats. In 1960 he signed with King/Federal, a label that had other impressive artists such as pianist Sonny Thompson who collaborated with King on a number of recordings. Some of King's classic songs were "Have You Ever Loved a Woman," "Woman Across the River," and "Hide Away," which became a major crossover hit from blues to pop.
King toured the United States and appeared in concert halls, night clubs, and at jazz and blues festivals. Weary of her husband's brutal recording and touring schedule, King's wife Jessie and their six children moved to Dallas in 1962. King left Chicago and moved to Dallas and back to his family in spring 1963. There he worked on perfecting his own soulful vocal style. In 1966 he made a series of appearances on The !!!! Beat, a weekley rhythm-and-blues Dallas television program whose house band was headed by Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
He signed with Cotillion in 1968 and recorded two albums, Freddie King is a Blues Master and My Feeling for the Blues. That same year he toured England. In 1969 he was one of the headlining acts at the Texas International Pop Festival. Like many blues artists in the late 1960s and early 1970s, King had close ties to rock-and-roll. Musicians such as Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck recorded his songs, and King toured with Clapton in the mid-1970s. In 1971 he recorded the first major live album ever made in Austin at Armadillo World Headquarters, known sometimes as "the House That Freddie King Built." He regularly played at the club and returned periodically for fund-raisers. His recordings with Shelter Records brought him recognition throughout the state as a "top notch Texas bluesman."
King died on December 28, 1976, of bleeding ulcers and pancreatitis at the age of forty-two. He was buried in Hillcrest Memorial Park, Dallas. In 1982 he was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Blues Hall of Fame. Texas Gov. Ann Richards declared September 3, 1993, as "Freddie King Day," and in 2003 Rolling Stone ranked King twenty-fifth among its list of the 100 greatest guitarists. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012.
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Sheldon Harris, Blues Who's Who: A Biographical Dictionary of Blues Singers (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1979). Eileen Southern, Biographical Dictionary of Afro-American and African Musicians (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1982). The Texas Cannonball: The Official Freddie King Site (http://www.freddiekingsite.com/index.html), accessed September 5, 2015. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
Dallas/Fort Worth Region
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
Amy Van Beveren and Laurie E. Jasinski,
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed August 17, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
February 1, 1995
Most Recent Revision Date:
August 30, 2015
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: