Updated: Oct 23, 2021
We at musicfreakdom as earlier said do not wish to go into the controversy of who the king of Rock and Roll is, but as to who is the originator of Rock and Roll, there is absolutely no controversy Little Richard Is. As can be attested to by this statement of Wikipedia where little Richard is described as " The originator, The innovator, and the architect of Rock 'n' Roll".
Little Richard or Richard Wayne Penniman was born 5th Dec 1932 and was active for 7 decades in the music Business. He just recently died May 2020. talk about style, Persona , outlandish dressing, trend setting, in terms of clothes and hairstyles, Little Richard was at the forefront. I am afraid I have to go out of tradition by quoting Wikipedia Verbatim such is the power of their description as they encapsulate how best to describe Little Richard. he was said to have started his music in the mid 50's " when his charismatic showmanship and dynamic music, characterized by frenetic piano playing ,pounding back beat and raspy shouted vocals lead the foundation for Rock 'n' Roll".
Little Richard was said to have laid via his music the foundation for other genres of music like R 'n' B and soul.
This great Cultural icon played a song in 1955 called "Tutti Frutti" which became an instant hit in both United states and United Kingdom, his next single " long Tall Sally" became no 1 on the billboard charts . Little Richard is credited with being able to unite both white, black and colored audiences with his songs at the height of segregation in the United States
Little Richard is credited with playing 15 consecutive single hits in the 50's which is an unprecedented feat. it was said that in 1962 when Little Richard abandoned Rock and Roll for Gospel, in 1962 his music was so in demand in the UK that he was persuaded to take a tour of the UK in 1962, and guess who were supporting groups to herald his presence? the almighty Beatles. Such was the greatness of Little Richard back then
The Beatles hugging the limelight with Little Richard
Richards music united everybody, white black and colored, the great Elvis was once quoted to have said he drew inspiration for his music from Little Richard. There were other Rock and Roll greats of that era as well including but not limited to, Bill Halley, Jerry Lee Lewis the Everly brothers and Cliff Richards , who borrowed one or two things from Little Richard.
Originally born Richard Wayne Penniman, the 3rd of 12 children born to Leva and Charles Penniman, he was of small stature and looked effeminate and he was said to have a little limp. He like most African American of the post slavery era were mostly Pentecostal Christians. and of course his Pentecostal background had a huge influence on his career, as every once in a while in moments of clarity the demons of Rock and Roll left him and he would switch to Gospel Music. Little Richard attended Hudson high school and there it was said he learnt to play the Piano.
He got a break in 1947 when his big sister heard him singing one day and invited him to sing and open her show at the Macon City auditorium. Little Richard was said to have said he learnt the piano while listening and watching Ike Turner. Little Richard started touring even while in high school and was said to have abandoned High school in the 10th grade to face his career, not that his father would miss him, as it was said he was not one of his fathers's favorites. Also his parents would never have agreed to the circular music he was playing with their strong Pentecostal background. He joined his first group called " Busta Browns orchestra" , By now was resident in Atlanta and was doing the Club scene, and was getting interested in R'n'B it was here he saw things and started copying some mannerisms and outlandish dressing.
Little Richard in a Zanny mode
Little Richard met a guy called Wright who was rumored to be gay and it was said it was from him little Richard copied his zanny hairstyle, Wright liked Little Richard and introduced him to a guy called Sears, he was recording Little Richard and that led to a record deal with RCA records, it was here Little Richard recorded his first successful ballad called "every Hour" That Ballad became a hit and little Richard started making money and with money of course comes respect, and it was around this time Little Richard met a guy (gay) called Esquerita, who was flamboyant, outlandish and gay. He influenced Little Richards crazy stagecraft that made him the megastar of Rock and Roll.
Little Richard kept on moving and with his lifestyle and not many hits he soon became bankrupt and actually quit music and briefly worked for greyhound.
Little Richard in his struggling days had icons like Ray Charles on the the scene, such was the competition
Also in competition in the struggling days of Little Richard was Fats Domino. Little Richard out of frustration one night was singing a risque dirty blues called Tutti Frutti, somebody heard the song and liked it and got him a producer, who knocked off the more sexually explicit parts of the song, Tutti Frutti was recorded and became a hit and from then Little Richards over 50 year music career began.
like i said earlier his career spanned over 50 years chronicled in 3 epochs, 1955-62, 1962-1983 , 1984-1999, 2000-death, actually it is 4 epochs, such was the staying power of little Richard.
We shall try to abridge all these so that this post is not too long, but the guy was such a phenomenon that a few pages would not do justice to his person or his genius.
Little Richard scored a string of hits and he was top draw everywhere he went, after Tutti frutti he played another hit called " long tall Sally" with success came money and little Richard and his band were touring all over America, Little Richard was not the only star trending in the 50's and 60's you also had Fats Domino,, while Fats Domino was a little slow on Stage Little Richard would climb on the piano, fast and dynamic and uninhibited.
Little Richards shows blew open racial and cultural barriers as whites and colored rushed to his shows. The practice of Ladies throwing their undies and bras on stage actually started with Little Richard, his shows were full of hysterical women and men
He recorded such hits as " slipping and sliding, " rip it up", "ready Teddy" " The girl cant help it" and of course " Lucille"
The likes of Elvis Presley reproduced some of his songs during this period. Little Richard got married around this period and moved to California. There were incidents where he had a premonition something bad would happen to him, and also his Pentecostal christian background kind of affected him and he could not reconcile his new life of Rock and Role with his Christian upbringing and so in 1958 he suddenly quit Rock and Roll music for Gospel music.
In 1962 Little Richard was convinced to undertake a show in the UK where as I mentioned earlier the Beatles were his supporting act, as well as the legendary Sam Cooke. Such was the Celebrity power of little Richard.
Also in 1963 Little Richard was contracted to rescue the flagging tour of the Everly Brothers and The Rolling Stones, he agreed and did rescue the tour, Mickey Jagger the frontsman of the Rolling Stone said," I have heard so much about the Magic of Little Richard i did not believe it much until i saw for myself how he whips the crowd into a frenzy"
The Everly Brothers
The Rolling Stones
Funny enough the acts that supported little Richard like the above two and the Beatles careers were on the ascendancy in the late 60's while Little Richards own was going down At this stage little Richards was changing labels and producers to gain a hit and find musical relevance. This period coincided with the era of Malcolm X, Black Panthers and Martin Luther King, Little Richard felt some of his black folk were boycotting his music because he played for White Folk. He went into TV shows and featured in TV specials.
A producer named Williams booked Little Richard for shows in Vegas, and as a leading man Little Richard was to adopt a more a funky look, this image was inspired by his former backup guitarist, Jimmy Hendrix
Little Richard with his shows in Vegas, Little Richard was now reputed as a good concert performer and he released an album called " Freedom Blues"
Freedom Blues album sleeve
Little Richard was not very good at managing money and so he and his brothers formed a Co. called Bud Hole Incorporated to take care of his finances. He headlined the London Rock and Roll show at the Wembley in 1972 with Chuck Berry
Little Richard with Chuck Berry
In 1977 worn down by excessive partying, drugs and tragedies, little Richard quit Rock and Roll again and went back to gospel music and released an album called "God's beautiful city" in 1979 and he evangelized in talk shows and appeared in David letterman's show
In the 80's Little Richard was still sought after but his genre of music for which he became popular had been taken over by white bands, like WHO, Bon Jovi, The Rolling Stones and the likes, and so the king did not make much and he filed a suit against his 1st Label for unpaid royalty. At some point his autobiography was written by one"Charles white" called the " Quasar of Rock, The life and times of Little Richard. The release of his autobiography brought him back again into the limelight and he took part in a film called " Down and Out in Beverly Hills". Around this time too Little Richard did a gospel Collaboration with Billy Preston called " Great gosh A'mighty" during this era little Richard was swinging between Rock and Roll and Gospel
Throughout the 90's the much sought after superstar was performing around the world and appeared in films and also did other collaborations with the Likes of Elton John and Bon Jovi
Little Richard and Bon Jovi
Little Richard was dramatized in year 2000 in a biographical film and was yet collaborating with heavyweights he was performing as much as his health could carry. he was at the top of the superstardom echelon and virtually everybody in showbiz adored little Richard. He was a judge in the celebrity series "Celebrity duets" he also performed in the 2008 Grammy awards with John Fogerty
Little Richard Performing with John Fogerty
Little Richard continued performing during this period but, health issues had started weighing him down he forged on though performing in Europe and the United states. He did his final concert in 2014.
Other tit bits on little Richard
His father doubted his sexuality as a kid and famously threw him out of the house one day and said he wanted 7 boys and not 6 sons and a girl. They were suspicions he had gay tendencies because of the influence of gay people on his career and his cross dressing. He married in 1959 and was said to have divorced in 1994. He was said to have had an addiction for cocaine use and heroine . He was plagued by all the demons that affect celebrities. His religious background never left him and was swinging between Rock and Roll and evangelical gospel music. I guess the devil was responsible for the Rock and Roll part of him and God was responsible for the gospel side of him.
Little Richard was the ultimate Godfather and was known by everybody and was idolized by the likes of Bootsy Collins, Quincy Jones, Otis Redding, Paul Mc Cartney, George Harrison you name it.
Bootsy Collins and Little Richard
1956 Cash boy award for "long tall sally"
1984 Inducted into Georgia Hall of Fame
1994 Received life time award from rhythm and blues foundation
2008 received Nashville music hall of fame award
2015 Inducted into Blues hall of fame
These are not the exhaustive list of all his awards and just an abridged version of all his awards.
Here 's little Richard 1957
Pray along with Richard 1958
The king of gospel singers 1962
The explosive Little Richard 1967
Shake it all about 1992
Also not an exhaustive list of his albums.
This has been the most challenging post ever done by me. The guy was simply a phenomenon as well as an institution, Wikipedia got so much literature on little Richard at I stage I could not cope with the summarisation, what you got here is still an over summarized version of little Richard, his life, his music and everything about him. he was indeed the undisputed originator, creator and emperor of Rock and Roll.
1 Billion and one thanks to Wikipedia, without them there would be no music freakdom
Also forever grateful to all the various media whose images we have used.
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