To borrow from the title of B.B. King’s signature song, the thrill of his music and legacy isn’t gone. Relaying that message is the B.B. King Life Legacy Initiative, which is launching several new partnerships, retail products and brand concepts in honor of the blues and guitar legend who died in 2015 Leading the rollout is a bourbon and whiskey line from Washington state-based Heritage Distilling Company: B.B. King One Whiskey. Also in development is a new album of collaborations with contemporary artists featuring King’s music, a theatrical biopic, a documentary and a 24-hour B.B. King Blues Network.
“B.B. King’s music is for everybody,” Vassal Benford, chairman/CEO of The B.B. King Estate, The B.B. King Music Company and the Family Trust, tells Billboard. “He’s an iconic figure all over the world.”
Benford, who began overseeing the $250 million estate and trust three years ago, is a Grammy-nominated producer whose discography includes hits such as Jade’s “Don’t Walk Away,” Deborah Cox’s “Who Do U Love” and Diplo’s “Be Right There,” plus collaborations with Toni Braxton and U2, among others. He announced the establishment of the B.B. King Life Legacy Initiative, the soft launch of the liquor line and the other forthcoming projects in September at Resorts World Las Vegas during a celebration of what would have been King’s 98th birthday (Sept. 16).
The vision behind the initiative began taking shape two years ago, Benford recalls, when he met with Bruce Resnikoff, president/CEO of Universal Music Enterprises (UMe). “We were trying to create ways to keep B.B. King’s legacy alive,” says Benford. “That was the main thing. And of course, that starts through the music.”
Further stoking that vision was the then-unforeseen 2020 release of “B.B. King Freestyle” by Lil Wayne featuring Drake from the former’s No Ceilings 3 mixtape. “That showed us the hip-hop world loves B.B.,” adds Benford. “So we decided, let’s do an album with hip-hop artists.”
Among the contemporary artists involved with the upcoming project are Quavo, Jason Derulo and Swae Lee. The songs use samples of King’s original records such as “The Thrill Is Gone” and “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” Promises Benford, “The album is phenomenal.”
The aforementioned King documentary will feature a song from Quavo that pays tribute to the late icon and Quavo’s late Migos mate, Takeoff. Already recorded, the track may be released before the documentary, which is currently in production under the supervision of Benford’s partner, film producer Mark Canton (Den of Thieves, TV series Power). And with the writer’s strike now ended, Benford and his team are in the process of engaging writers for the theatrical biopic. In addition, a major commercial campaign on behalf of B.B. King One Whiskey will kick off after the first of the year.
In the wake of launching the B. B. King Life Legacy Initiative to preserve the icon’s legacy and introduce him to a new generation of fans, Benford says, “The blues has been an underserved market. Richie Sambora, Joe Perry, Eric Clapton … I don’t think there’s anybody that I’ve ever talked to who doesn’t love B.B. King. Even the younger guys. When you listen to them on this new album, you can just hear the respect.” VassalBenford.com