B. B. McKinney, writer of gospel songs, teacher, and music editor, was born to James Calvin and Martha Annis (Heflin) McKinney in Heflin, Louisiana, on July 22, 1886. He attended Mount Lebanon Academy, Louisiana; Louisiana College, Pineville, Louisiana; Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth; Siegel–Myers Correspondence School of Music, Chicago, Illinois (B.M. 1922); and Bush Conservatory of Music, Chicago. Oklahoma Baptist University awarded him an honorary Mus.D. in 1942.
From 1918 to 1935 McKinney served as music editor for Robert Henry Coleman, songbook publisher in Dallas, and many of his works were originally published in Coleman's songbooks and hymnals. In 1919, after several months in the United States Army, McKinney returned to Fort Worth, where Isham E. Reynolds asked him to join the faculty of the School of Sacred Music at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He taught there until 1932, when he left the seminary due to its financial difficulties caused by the Great Depression. From 1931 to 1935 McKinney served as assistant pastor of Travis Avenue Baptist Church, Fort Worth, in charge of music. In 1935 he was named music editor for the Baptist Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, Nashville, Tennessee, where he edited the popular Broadman Hymnal (1940). In 1941 he became secretary of the newly-formed Department of Church Music of the Sunday School Board, a post he held until his death.
During McKinney's career he led music in numerous revivals, including those at the Buckner Orphan's Home (later Buckner Baptist Children's Home) in Dallas. He had a special relationship with the children there, who expanded his initials, "B. B.," to "Big Brother." He also taught in schools of church music in local Southern Baptist churches. Under his own name and pen names including Martha Annis, Otto Nellen, and Gene Routh, he composed words and music to 149 gospel hymns and songs, composed the music for 114 others, and arranged more than 100 works. Some of his best-loved songs include “Glorious is Thy Name,” “Satisfied With Jesus,” and “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go.” Additionally, he contributed to several textbooks.
McKinney married Leila Irene Routh on June 11, 1918. They had two sons. He died in Bryson City, North Carolina, on September 7, 1952, from injuries received in an automobile accident several days earlier. He was buried in Woodlawn Memorial Park in Nashville, Tennessee. McKinney was inducted into the Gospel Music Association's Gospel Music Hall of Fame in 1982.