Singer Ruby Wilson, the undisputed “Queen of Beale Street,” has died. Wilson passed Friday following a stroke, reports the Memphis Flyer, which describes her as a “one woman wall of sound.” She was 68 years old.
According to the Flyer, Wilson was born in Fort Worth, Texas, and got her music skills honestly: Her mother was director of the church choir, and her dad was a cohort of Federal Records recording artist Freddie King.
By the time she was 15, she was touring as a backup singer for gospel star Shirley Caesar, and by 20 she was singing with B.B. King, who called her his goddaughter.
Reportedly following advice given to her by Isaac Hayes, Wilson moved to Memphis, Tenn., in the early 1970s, and went to work in the Memphis City School system as a kindergarten teacher by day. By night, however, she sang her special blend of gospel and blues on Memphis’ club scene.
She had a residency at B.B. King’s blues club and later his restaurant.
The Flyer reports that Wilson toured the world numerous times, performed alongside artists like Willie Nelson and Ray Charles, and recorded 10 solo albums. She has appeared in many documentaries and films, such as Black Snake Moan and The People vs. Larry Flynt.
Wilson suffered a stroke in 2009 and after months of intense therapy learned to speak again.
Vintage Vinyl News reports that she is survived by four children, 12 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Watch Wilson perform “The Thrill Is Gone” with B.B. King and Rufus Thomas in 2015.