Little Richard — Richard Wayne Penniman — is one of the pillars of rock and roll.
The Macon, GA native was born in 1932, the third of 12 children. His father was both a bootlegger and a Seventh Day Aventist preacher. The dramatic details of his biography are told in many places, of course, including the The History of Rock, Biography and The Wall Street Journal, which are sources for this post.
Richard’s father kicked him out of the house when he was 13 due to his effeminate manner. Richard spent a few years gaining his footing. He recorded some music and worked at other jobs.
The History of Rock and Roll tells the story of one of the moments in which rock and roll was born. It sounds like a movie: On September 14, 1955, Richard was brought by Specialty Records into Fats Domino’s home studio in New Orleans, J&M Music, for a session accompanied by a gentleman named Bumps Blackwell:
Initially Blackwell, was no more successful then his predecessors. Richard choose to record generally slow blues and he felt that none were particularly good. During a break he and Richard went to the Dew Drop Inn. With few people there and an old upright piano, Richard started playing like crazy, singing loud, lewd and hamming it up. Blackwell was stunned[…]why couldn’t he record this? Local lyricist was Dorothy LaBostrie was called to clean up the lyric. They went back to J&M and with only fifteen minutes left in the session. “Tutti Fruiti, good booty” became “Tutti Fruiti, aw-rootie” and the rest is history.
Richard had a string of hits that now are rock and roll standards.In 1957 — in the midst of a tour — he retired to sing gospel. When The Beatles recorded “Long Tall Sally” Richard came back. His path – especially during his comeback – sometimes was difficult.
In a less enlightened age, much of the reporting of Richard’s bisexuality was salacious. He claimed he dressed flamboyantly to convince white men he was gay and posed no sexual threat when performing in integrated settings.
Richard — who hired and fired a young Jimi Hendrix — was an original inductee into The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Above is “Tutti Frutti” and below is “Long Tall Sally.” The video is from the 1956 movie “Don’t Knock the Rock.”
(Homepage photo: Annableker)