Google celebrates BB King's 94th birthday with a doodle charting his life

Google has marked BB King's 94th birthday with a doodle celebrating the late blues icon's life, from growing up on Mississippi cotton plantations and finding his sound on Memphis' Beale Street, to achieving international stardom.

King was born on 16 September 1925, on Berclair cotton plantation by Itta Bena, Mississippi. He found the guitar through his church, where the guitar-playing minister showed him a few chords. That would be his only lesson. Thereafter he was self-taught. 

When King Biscuit Time first aired in 1941, the half-hour afternoon radio show introduced King to the Mississippi Delta blues, and to the guitar playing of Robert Lockwood Jr. King would listen to the show and entertain dreams of doing something similar. He did that – and a whole lot more.

If his cousin Bukka White was an influence, King told Guitarist in 2009 that he never wanted to copy him, nor anyone in the Delta blues style. 

I was a rebel and just wanted to play what I felt

BB King

"I grew up hearing that Delta style but I could never play like Bukka or anyone else!" he said. "I wanted to play like Lonnie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson – even Jimmy Rogers did things I liked. I loved Django Reinhardt as well, but when T-Bone Walker came up with that single string playing on the electric guitar, that did it – I went crazy. I've tried to mimic these guys but I never really wanted to play just like them, I was a rebel and just wanted to play what I felt."

Google's BB King doodle was illustrated by Steve Spencer and animated by Nayeli Lavanderos. It depicts many of the key events in King's life: driving a tractor through the cotton fields of Mississippi, playing churches, playing street corners, and taking the journey north to Memphis, Tennessee, where King bought his first electric guitar, "a Gibson with a DeArmond pickup," which was run through a small gibson amp.

And it was in Memphis that he really really found his sound, on Beale Street, playing with Bobby Bland, Johnny Ace and Earl Forrest.

Set to The Thrill Is Gone, the doodle follows the King of the Blues through all of those milestones – the naming of Lucille, the opening of the doors to BB King's Blues Club and the BB King Museum.

BB King died on 14 May 2015, aged 89, having taken the blues from the streets and the juke joints to the world's grandest stages.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.

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