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End of an era: B.B. Kings Blues Club closes with final show

TIMES SQUARE, Manhattan – After nearly two decades, B.B. King’s Blues Club & Grill in Times Square has closed its doors.

TIMES SQUARE, MANHATTAN. Music artist Justine Skye performs at B.B. Kings during a holiday concert on December 15, 2015. (Photo by Mariya Moseley)

The venue, which was named after the late Blues legend B.B. King, ended their 18-year run with a final show on Sunday.

Natalie Imani, a New Jersey native, performed a Whitney Houston tribute at the venue in 2012. She credits the “intimate atmosphere” as one of the things that separates the venue from any other location where she’s performed.

“There aren’t any other music venues quite like this one in the vicinity where Funk, Blues and R&B music is celebrated,” Imani said.

Imani, a lead vocalist for singer John Legend, has performed alongside artists like Cardi B, Lauryn Hill and Nicki Minaj.

In a statement earlier this month, management for the venue credited rent increase for their departure and said “we are in the process of selecting a new location in Manhattan to relocate the venue.”

“Despite many sold out shows, the [Times Square] location’s rent escalated to an unsustainable level, leaving us no choice but to close our doors,” said Tsion Bensusan, venue operator of TSE Group, according to Billboard. “Unfortunately this has become a growing trend in New York City, with other iconic music venues and businesses falling victim to opportunistic property owners. This venue’s legacy extends much further than the stage, playing a role in Times Square’s revitalization two decades ago.”

Karon Sandern, who worked as a door host for two years, said he is unaware of specific plans for relocation. He didn’t learn about the shutdown until a few weeks prior to the business closing.

Upon finishing his final shift on Saturday, the 20-year-old Brooklyn native plans to move to Atlanta to pursue his dream of being a physical therapist. This fall, he’ll begin classes at Clark Atlanta University.

The venue’s final week of celebration included music artists like Rick Ross, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh. On Sunday, their final headline performer was Chicago Blues legend and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy.

Brenda Cumberbatch, who lives in the Bronx, said she’s disappointed that the venue is closing after coming for more than a decade.

“When I leave tonight, it’s going to be kind of sad,”Cumberbatch said. “There’s nothing like coming here.”

Since opening its doors in the summer of 2000, the club has hosted an array of performers such as Aretha Franklin, Jay-Z and James Brown. The popular events space and restaurant named after “The King of Blues” has locations in cities like Memphis, Orlando and New Orleans. B.B. King died in 2015 at age 89.

“It’s named after the musical icon B.B. King. This alone makes you feel a great sense of pride and excitement when you have the opportunity to perform there,” Imani said.