DALLAS — In what was their final exchange Friday afternoon, Shallisa Alexander assured her mother, renowned blues singer Ruby Wilson, that she’d be okay.
“I’m okay for the most part,” Alexander said during a telephone interview from Memphis. “I’m okay.”
Having described the past few days as “stressful and overwhelming,” Alexander, along with her three siblings, were left to reflect on their mother’s well-publicized legacy moments after Wilson had died at Methodist South Hospital.
She was 68.
Having spent several days in a coma, Wilson expired at 1:10 p.m. Friday, nearly 24 hours after she had been taken off a respirator.
“She had been off the respirator since 1:30 p.m. Thursday,” Alexander said. “She almost made it to 1:30 today.”
Still, Alexander, who seemed in high spirits approximately two hours after Wilson’s passing, admittedly was happy of the way her mother had gone about taking her last breath.
“She went out Ruby style,” Alexander said. “She went out in her own way, in her own timing. Her hands were not forced. She left here in her leap year.”
Born on February 29, 1948 in nearby Fort Worth, Texas, Wilson relocated to Memphis and started her professional singing career when she was 16. She would later become widely known as the “Queen of Beale Street,” arguably one of Memphis’ major tourist attractions.
For years, Wilson, who was the goddaughter to late fellow musician B. B. King, had been one of the house staples at B.B. King’s Blues Club in downtown Memphis.
To her credit, her celebrity was heightened, in large part because of her global impact to the music world.
“When I look back on her legacy, it’s one that can’t be copied,” Alexander said. “She’s been all over the world. She’s been to Europe, Beijing, New Zealand, Germany, and she’s been on countless cruises. And I’ve never been on a cruise.”
Wilson’s final public appearance was on August 3 at B. B. King’s.
Arguably one of the most decorated blues singers ever to perform in the heart of downtown Memphis, Wilson had a global impact in the entertainment industry, considering she had recorded more than ten albums and performed with other artists, most notably Isaac Hayes and Ray Charles, among others.
In addition, she assumed roles in several movies, including The Chamber, The People vs. Larry Flynt, Cookie’s Fortune, and Black Snake Moan, and her music was included in several of their soundtracks.
Consequently, Wilson was also one of the blues musicians included in the documentary film Delta Rising, alongside other recording artists such as Willie Nelson, Chris Cotton, and Morgan Freeman.
She performed at the White House, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and many other prominent venues around the world.
Also, she was the beneficiary of an array of accolades, most notably having been honored with the Memphis Sound Award For Best Entertainer, the Authentic Beale Street Musician Award, and a Supporter’s Award from St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
A longtime member of the Memphis-Shelby County Film And Tape Commission, Wilson was inducted into the African American Hall of Fame.
Moments before her passing, Alexander sensed the time had come to bid her mother one last goodbye.
“Before the (doctors) called it, he checked her vitals first,” Alexander said. “So when he left out the room, I said, ‘Mama, go home.’ I told her to stop stressing and let it go. And she let it go, and I told her to kiss my big mama and my paw paw, which were her mother and father.”
Funeral arrangements for Wilson are incomplete.
Andre Johnson is the publisher and senior writer for MemphiSport. A 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism and a former staff reporter for The Memphis Commercial Appeal, Johnson covers the NBA Southwest Division from Dallas, Texas. To reach Johnson, send an email to email@example.com. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.