September 16, 2019
B.B. King’s 94th Birthday
Go behind-the-scenes of today’s Doodle below!
Today’s Doodle, illustrated by Little Rock-based guest artist Steve Spencer and animated by Brooklyn-based guest animator Nayeli Lavanderos, celebrates B.B. King—the iconic “King of the Blues” who brought blues music from cotton fields and street corners to grand halls and arenas across the world.
Born on this day in 1925 on a Mississippi Delta plantation near Berclair, Mississippi, Riley B. King was a sharecropper’s son whose soulful, piercing guitar solos became recognizable with a single note. Often imitated but never duplicated, B.B. King became a blueprint for many of the world’s biggest rock stars who followed. “I wish I could just do like B. B. King,” said John Lennon of The Beatles. “If you would put me with B. B. King, I would feel real silly.”
Raised singing gospel music in church, King performed on street corners before hitchhiking to Memphis and landing a job on the air at radio station WDIA. There, locals began calling him “Beale Street Blues Boy,” later shortened to “Bee Bee” and finally “B.B.”
He began recording in 1949 and never looked back after his first hit, “Three O’Clock Blues.” Records like “The Thrill is Gone” and “Every Day I Have the Blues” have become classics of the genre.
King opened for the Rolling Stones on tour and became the first internationally acclaimed blues artist, winning 15 Grammys, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, receiving honorary doctorates from assorted universities, and performing at the White House. Embodying the traveling bluesman, King was also known for averaging more than 300 shows a year throughout various points in his career.
In 1949, King ran inside a burning nightclub to save a guitar, risking his own life for his beloved instrument. The fire had been caused by two men fighting over a woman named Lucille, and from that day forward, King referred to all his guitars by that name.
“When I sing, I play in my mind,” he once said. “The minute I stop singing orally, I start to sing by playing Lucille.”
Courtesy of Universal Music and Hiroyuki Arakawa
Special thanks to the B.B. King Family Trust for their partnership on this project. Below, a representative of the trust shares some thoughts on the artist’s legacy.
The B.B. King Family Trust is excited that Google Doodles has chosen to honor B.B. King on what would have been his 94th birthday. One of B.B. King’s lifelong influences was his first teacher, Luther Henson. Luther gave B.B. a positive self-image, got him devoted to self-improvement, and taught him to be self-reliant through learning.
B.B. carried this enthusiasm for self-improvement throughout his life — learning to read, write, play music, and sing on his own. While traveling and touring the world he took up speed reading, learned to communicate in several languages, got a pilot’s license, and pursued his fascination with technology.
B.B. King would have shared and embraced Google’s spirit as he strove to transcend musical and cultural boundaries.
Art Director & Guest Artist Q&A
Today's Doodle video was art directed by Oakland-based, Memphis-born Angelica McKinley; illustrated by Little Rock-based guest artist Steve Spencer; and animated by Brooklyn-based guest animator Nayeli Lavanderos. Below, the three share their thoughts behind the making of the Doodle:
Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?
A: This topic is meaningful for me because I grew up in Memphis, listening to B.B. King and hearing about blues artists like W.C. Handy and Bobby 'Blue' Bland of the Beale Streeters. These two artists and the city’s famous Beale Street greatly influenced King's career. In fact, several people I grew up with have played in clubs along that very same street.
Memphis is a city forged by civil rights and music (specifically blues, soul, rock 'n' roll, and rap). Everyone knows about Elvis Presley and Graceland, however many other legendary artists like King called this city home: Issac Hayes, Johnny Cash, Otis Redding, and Kirk Whalum, as well as contemporaries like Justin Timberlake, Valerie June, Yo Gotti, and Three 6 Mafia. I'm humbled by the privilege to weave the musical and historical significance of my city with the life of an extremely talented man whose career is deeply intertwined with Memphis's development and international appeal.
S: I saw B.B. open for a much more well-known act way back when. The more well-known band only played for 23 minutes. Afterwards, I looked to the right of the stage and saw B.B. talking with the musicians in that band. He then came out and played for an hour with the bigger act's band. I was completely won over by his generosity of spirit. He already had me as a musician,
but he then won me over as a person.
N: I've always liked B.B. King's music and felt honored to pay a tribute to him using my artistic skill.
What were your first thoughts when you were approached about the project?
A: How can I possibly take B.B. King's entire life — spanning almost 9 decades — and fit it into a video that is 3 minutes long? This forced me to decide on the most important points I wanted to get across about King: his cultural significance of taking the blues from cotton fields and juke joints to arenas around the world; his unique string-bending technique on the guitar; and his devotion to performing as the consummate traveling bluesman. Then the challenge was to find the right song, but once I heard the first few minutes of "The Thrill is Gone," I knew that was the one that could engage a new audience while bringing nostalgia for established audiences.
S: When I found out this Doodle would be about B.B., I was elated. I dug up his autobiography, which I had read maybe 15 years ago, and reread pivotal stories. I started a new sketchbook with a flood of ideas—visual and verbal. It looked like something the bad guy in a thriller might inadvertently leave behind when he finds out the authorities are closing in on him.
N: Excited! But I also realized I didn't know much about his life.
Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle?
A: While working on this project, I devoured everything I could about B.B. King—from documentaries, to obituaries, to YouTube videos. Watching him play his guitar Lucille and teach others his signature vibrato was inspiring. I also looked at the work of other visual artists who've captured jazz or blues musicians. I found inspiration in illustrator Evan Turk's drawings for the book Muddy: The Story of Blues Legend Muddy Waters, as well as the emotive storytelling in a short illustrated film about Kobe Bryant, called Dear Basketball. I’d say I was also drawn to artists’ work that was similar to our guest artist Steve Spencer's style of painting.
S: B.B.'s autobiography. The documentary about B.B., The Life of Riley. Discussions with Angelica, from Google. YouTube clips of B.B. from various points in his career.
N: I did a lot of research on B.B. King and watched many live concerts to really be able to grasp his feel for the music.
What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?
A: I hope that people looking at this Doodle understand the magnitude of B.B. King's life journey. His story can be seen as a source of inspiration for anyone of any race. Without having a full formal education and the guidance of his parents, King took the talent that he was given in a time period that wasn't kind to black people and devoted himself to sharing music that was the pulse of the Mississippi Delta with the rest of the world. This music was created from pain that he knew all too well but King decided to own it. Despite all his successes, King remained a kind, humble man who still enjoyed coming home to his beloved Mississippi Delta to simply play Lucille.
S: If you’re true to yourself, you can find your authentic voice. B.B. King loved music so much that he worked for years to develop his own voice. I feel like that's my lifetime goal, too. I think that's a facet of life that we can all take inspiration from.
N: Mostly getting an insight on his life-long trajectory and his deep passion for his music.
Early sketches and drafts from guest artist Steve Spencer
More behind-the-scenes of the making of today’s Doodle:
Art Directors Erich and Angelica with guest artist Steve, next to B.B. King’s brass note on Beale Street’s Walk of Fame celebrating talented people who made Memphis music and Beale Street worldwide.
Erich, Angelica, Steve, and Business Affairs Lead Madeline standing in front of Beale Street’s newest mural “The Beale Street Wings,” featuring an iconic line from Marc Cohn’s song “Walking in Memphis."
Visiting Club Ebony, a historic African American juke joint where legendary acts such as Ray Charles, James Brown, Bobby “Blue” Bland, B. B. King and others performed. In 2008, B.B. King purchased this landmark to keep its tradition alive, and that history is now being preserved by the B.B. King Museum & Delta Interpretive Center.
B.B. KING DOODLE TEAM
Project Art Director | Angelica McKinley
Lead Art Director | Erich Nagler
Guest Artist | Steve Spencer
Guest Animator | Nayeli Lavanderos
Program Manager | Lindsay Elgin
Marketing & Partnerships | Perla Campos, Grace Chen
Business Affairs Lead & Partnerships Program Manager | Madeline Belliveau
Doodle Team Leads | Jessica Yu, Brian Kaas
SPECIAL THANKS TO OUR PARTNERS
The B.B. King Family Trust
The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center
Executive Director | Malika Polk-Lee
Director of Operations | Robert Terrell
Orpheum Theatre Group
Director of Rentals and Production Operations | Joy Truly Brown