Today’s video Doodle, created by Atlanta-based guest artist Sam Bass, celebrates the 70th birthday of multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, and producer Luther Vandross—the “Velvet Voice” whose silky-smooth tenor ballads romanced generations with inimitable style and grace.
Born on this day in 1951 in New York City, Luther Ronzoni Vandross grew up inspired by soul music giants such as Diana Ross, Aretha Franklin, and Dionne Warwick. At the age of five, he showed a sharp interest in singing, often using the coin-operated recording booths found in stores sprinkled throughout New York City at the time. He truly knew music was his destiny after a Warwick performance blew him away at 13—so he began to write his own songs. After high school, Vandross showcased his tunes at Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Although he never won first place, he joined the theater’s performing arts group “Listen My Brother Revue,” who sang on the 1969 pilot episode of the children’s show “Sesame Street” and gave Vandross his first taste of widespread exposure.
Vandross’s next big break came when his original composition “Everybody Rejoice” was featured in “The Wiz,” a 1974 Broadway musical later adapted into an Academy Award-winning film. From there, Vandross launched himself into dozens of collaborative projects with artists like David Bowie, Ringo Starr, Whitney Houston, and Ben E. King. His knack for infectious hooks also landed him gigs singing commercial jingles for Juicy Fruit and several other major brands.
In 1981, Vandross launched his solo career and took full creative control to compose, write, and produce his debut studio album “Never Too Much”—the soundtrack of today’s Doodle and the first of 14 studio albums that went either platinum or multi-platinum! A fine-tuned maestro of performance, Vandross took his passionate songs on world-wide tours, where he poured his style into all aspects of live production, from the design of background singers sparkling gowns to the mood-setting stage lights. In 1989, Vandross’s devotion to the live experience set an international milestone when he became the first male artist to sell out 10 consecutive shows at London’s Wembley Arena.
Vandross’s successful music career culminated in eight Grammy Awards (out of 33 nominations), a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a 1997 Super Bowl half-time show performance, and eight Billboard Top 10 albums.
Happy birthday, Luther Vandross! The joy your music brings to the world is never too much.
Special thanks to the family of Luther Vandross for their collaboration on this project. Below they share their thoughts on the Doodle and Luther Vandross’s legacy.
It is a true reflection of Luther Vandross’s musical legacy around the world to be honored by Google with an animated video Doodle that fittingly captures the joy Luther has brought the world. Luther made each of his songs about one simple, universal subject—love; an emotion and feeling common to the human experience no matter who you are, where you’re from or what you look like.
No one else has expressed this emotion, in song, at the level Luther did for over 35 years. To have Google broadcast that around the world is a wonderful showcase of his immeasurable talent.
Guest Artist Q&A with Sam Bass
Today’s Doodle was illustrated and animated by Atlanta-based guest artist Sam Bass. Below, he shares his thoughts behind the making of this Doodle:
Q: Why was this topic meaningful to you personally?
A: Luther Vandross brought happiness and joy into so many people's lives through his music. His songs are iconic and internationally known. During a time with so many horrible things in the news, it's great to get to do something like this.
Q: Did you draw inspiration from anything in particular for this Doodle?
A: I'm personally inspired by color. I love the things that you can do visually with contrast, saturation, and hue. For this Doodle, I wanted to make color an important part of the visual story. Starting with a nightlife palette, then moving into a sunrise/golden hour palette, a mid-day to early afternoon palette, and then back to the nightlife palette for the grand finale concert.
Q: What message do you hope people take away from your Doodle?
While working on this project I had a lot of feelings, but the main one was joy. It was so much fun getting to figure out ways to make each moment in the video feel intimate and a part of the overall story. I was creating small vignettes about togetherness, all types of love, nostalgia, and happiness—all while listening to an iconic song on repeat!
Early sketches and drafts of the video Doodle below
Luther Vandross Doodle Team
Art Director | Angelica McKinley
Guest Artist | Sam Bass
Program Managers | Colin Duffy, Greg Capuano and Lindsay Elgin
Marketing & Partnerships | Sierra Menzies, Perla Campos
Business Affairs & Partnerships | Madeline Belliveau
Music Legal Manager | Joy Edgar
Doodle Team Leads | Jessica Yu, Brian Kaas