Cunningham leaves more than a musical void - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Cunningham leaves more than a musical void

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Twenty-two-year-old Dock Cedric Britt has been accused and charged with first degree murder in the Oct. 14 early Sunday deadly shooting of a popular Memphis musician and member of Jerry Lee Lewis' band.

Longtime songwriter and producer, B.B. Cunningham, who had been moonlighting as a security guard, was shot and killed at a Memphis apartment complex over the weekend.

A 16-year-old also died.

MORE: Memphis musician killed in shooting
MORE: Friends remember B.B. Cunningham

Memphis police said Mr. Cunningham was murdered by Britt and another unnamed man, who remains at-large.

In the wake of his unexpected passing family, admirers and long time friends, such as legendary Memphis disc jockey George Klein, reflected on a man who left more than a musical void.

Klein often called on Cunningham's talents during the 40 years of his annually hosted charity Christmas concert.

"I preach, dear friends, you are about to receive on John Barleycorn, nicotine, and the temptations of Eve," Cunningham satirically penned the 1967's hit "Let It All Hang Out." Not only rhythmically noted the pleasures of regaling in you favorite vices can often bring, the song served as a personal anthem for a man who lived life to its fullest as a musician, songwriter and producer.

"If you called him, you'd say, 'hey, we got a charity affair here B.B. Could you get the hombres together and bring it one more time?,' Klein recalled. "He said, 'sure.' There was no."

Police announced the arrest on Monday. Britt is accused of shooting Mr. Cunningham and wounding security guard Theresa Sanders. A police affidavit says the 70-year-old Cunningham was on security duty next door to the Cherry Crest Apartments and went to investigate when he heard a shot.

When police arrived, Mr. Cunningham and a 16-year old boy, identified as Henry White, were both dead from gunshots wounds.

A second suspect was still at-large as of Monday afternoon.

No bond was set for Britt.

On Sunday Cunningham's granddaughter mourned his loss.

"The way he died just ... I'm probably going to end up making music, like getting more serious into it," she said.

Though his signature song "Let It All Hang Out" was the chart-topper of his career, as a vocal artist, Mr. Cunningham's work as a producer and songwriter was prolific. So, too were the friendships B.B. Cunningham made in the Memphis music community.

"B.B. Cunningham was a great, great, talent and Memphis will miss him," Klein said.

Britt is due back in court Oct. 22.

The shooting shook Memphis musicians, many of whom looked up to the keyboardist who joined Jerry Lee Lewis' band in 1997. He had also been working on an album with his son.

Joseph Cunningham, the musician's son, acknowledges that a regular paycheck was one reason why his father worked as a security guard.

"Most of Jerry Lee's band, as a matter of fact, have jobs on the side because Jerry doesn't tour consistently enough for them to make a living at it," Joseph Cunningham said.

The former Air Force military police officer also had an interest in helping others, doing charity work and looking after those who lived in the apartment complex.

"He loved protecting people and standing up for people's rights and watching their back," Joseph Cunningham said.

Other prominent Memphis musicians who died this year include Memphis Horns tenor saxophonist Andrew Love and Booker T. and the MGs bassist Donald "Duck" Dunn.

"Music was his life. He was given a God-given talent," Joseph Cunningham told in a phone interview from Olive Branch, Miss. "He not only played, but he helped young musicians ... He was loved and well-respected."

Born Blake Baker Cunningham Jr., B.B. Cunningham became friends in high school with Steve Cropper and Dunn, both founding members of Booker T. and the MGs.

As a teenager, Cunningham helped run the family's record label. In 1954, Sun Studio producer Sam Phillips asked Cunningham to add some percussion to a session by a young Elvis Presley.

Cunningham led the band the Six O'Clock Boys and was a member of the touring version of Ronnie and the Daytonas, known for the song "G.T.O."

The touring group then became the Hombres, which scored a No. 12 hit on Billboard's Hot 100 chart in 1967 with the raw, edgy "Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)." The cult classic has been covered by John Mellencamp and used in the 2005 film "Elizabethtown."

Cunningham later work at the famed Sounds of Memphis Studio and, in 1971, moved to Los Angeles, where he served as chief engineer at Independent Recorders. There, he worked with Billy Joel, Elton John, and Lou Rawls.

Cunningham returned to Memphis a few years later and launched his own studio. His solo album, "Hangin' In," was released in 2003.

Eldorado Del Rey, a musician who also works at Sun Studio in Memphis, said Cunningham would visit Sun Studio often to say hello and have a cup of coffee.

"He was awesome, I loved him," said Del Rey. "He was kind of meditative, but then he would tell you a really funny story."


The Associated Press contributed to his report.

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