In the early 1980s, now-retired WCCO-TV anchor Don Shelby partied and sang with B.B. King in the Minneapolis apartment of then-co-anchor Ann Rubenstein.
“It was a magical, wonderful night,” Ann Rubenstein Tisch said when she called me Tuesday from NYC.
The body of Memphis’ Beale Street Blues Boy, 89, will be viewed at the B.B. King Museum in his Mississippi hometown next week before a funeral that will end with his burial at the museum.
The party got started many years ago after a live shot fell apart shortly before the 5 p.m. newscast that Shelby and Rubenstein co-anchored. “We didn’t know how to fill it,” Shelby told me Monday. “And I said, ‘B.B. King’s next door, at Orchestra Hall. If he’s there, we can interview him live.’ I knew the person at the stage door, I walked back and introduced myself. So we walked across the street to ’CCO and we sat down; Ann was with me on the 5 o’clock show. And she called him Beeb, which is kind of cute,” he said, laughing.
Shelby was pumped for interviewing the blues legend. “In my own collection there were at least 30 LPs of B.B. King’s, before the Rolling Stones discovered him. O.V. Wright and Solomon Burke, I was always listening to the great black singers of the day; that’s where my head was. I knew a lot of B.B. King,” he said. “The interview ends, we go to commercial break, and Ann Rubenstein says, Beeb, I’m having a little soiree at my pad tonight. Later, I turned to Ruby and I said, ‘You didn’t tell me you were having a party!’ And she said, I wasn’t. Loan me $100 so I can call Byerly’s and get some food.”
And that, dear readers, is why it is my style to italicize quotes one adult remembers another adult saying!
Rubenstein Tisch had a slightly different recollection.
“I said to B.B. King, ‘Where is the after-party?’ One of his band members was sitting in the background and B.B. looked at his band member [who said], I don’t think there is one. I looked at Don and he kind of looked at me and I said, ‘We’d love to give you an after-party.’ That’s how it all happened. Sure enough, after the concert they came over to my apartment, which was at Loring Way,” said Rubenstein Tisch, who laughed lyrically. “We had a whole bunch of people from the station. I’d run around and picked up stuff to eat and drink.”
With $100 loaned by Shelby?
“I borrowed $100 from Don?” she said, raising her voice. “I don’t think so. I don’t know if I did or not. I might have asked people to pitch in; I might have done that. You know there were a whole lot of people there, I don’t know, 40? [King] walked in with about four band members.”
Shelby had gone to pick up King and crew, after the 10 p.m. newscast, to drive them over to Rubenstein’s apartment.
“It was one of those magical nights,” she said. “Is that what Don said?”
Yes, on that detail their recollections are identical. They both also recalled the party ending about 4 a.m.
“Over the years I have often thought about that night,” said Rubenstein Tisch, who left WCCO to work for the network at NBC. After leaving a long broacast career to raise a family, she founded Young Women’s Leadership Network, which created 13 all-girl public schools nationwide.
She is married to Andrew Tisch, co-chair of the board and chair of the exec committee of Loews Corp., a company founded by his late father, a former owner of CBS.
“Recently when [B.B.] died, it was very poignant to recall that wonderful evening we shared together in laughter and music and spontaneity” in 1981 or 1982, Rubenstein Tisch said.
Shelby said: “We were singing and doing old tunes, old doo-wop stuff.”
Rubenstein Tisch told me, “I can sing the songs, but I can’t remember who did them.” She sang a few lines of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me,” which led to a long-distance duet.
She’s a good singer. “I remember that one; I love that song. I think we might have done ‘Daddy’s Home.’ That was a song that Don sang very well,” she said.
Shelby got to ask King a question of great interest to Don. “We’re sitting on the floor and I said, ‘B.B., of all the blues lyrics you’ve ever encountered, what are the bluesiest, most down lyrics you know?’ And he said, Oh, that’s easy: Nobody loves me but my momma and she may be jiving, too.” Shelby and I broke up laughing.
The next day at the station, where she worked from 1979 to 1984, Rubenstein Tisch said, “All of us went into work kind of Did that really happen? Give, Don my love, will you?” Done.
C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9’s “Buzz.” E-mailers, please state a subject; “hello” does not count. Attachments are not opened.