♫ R.I.P. Little Richard ♫

Yesterday, the world lost another music pioneer, Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard.

Born in Macon, Georgia on December 5th, 1932, he was one of twelve children.  His family listened to singers like Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald. Richard couldn’t find any music he liked, so he created it.  He was an influential figure in popular music and culture for seven decades, and among his nicknames were “The Innovator”, “The Originator”, and “The Architect of Rock and Roll”.  His music, dating back to the 1950s is characterized by frenetic piano playing, pounding back beat and raspy shouted vocals, laying the foundation for rock and roll. Little-RichardLittle Richard is cited as one of the first crossover black artists, reaching audiences of all races. His music and concerts broke the color line, drawing blacks and whites together despite attempts to sustain segregation. His contemporaries, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, all recorded covers of his works. Taken by his music and style, and personally covering four of Little Richard’s songs on his own two breakthrough albums in 1956, Presley told him in 1969 that his music was an inspiration to him and that he was “the greatest”.

Of Little Richard, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame said …

“He claims to be ‘the architect of rock and roll,’ and history would seem to bear out Little Richard’s boast. More than any other performer – save, perhaps, Elvis Presley, Little Richard blew the lid off the Fifties, laying the foundation for rock and roll with his explosive music and charismatic persona. On record, he made spine-tingling rock and roll. His frantically charged piano playing and raspy, shouted vocals on such classics as ‘Tutti Frutti,’ ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ defined the dynamic sound of rock and roll.”

President Bill Clinton was always a Little Richard fan, and in 1993, Little Richard played at Clinton’s inauguration.  The same year, he was awarded a lifetime achievement Grammy Award.

Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones famously said about Little Richard …

“I had heard so much about the audience reaction that I thought there must be some exaggeration. But it was all true. He drove the whole house into a complete frenzy. There’s no single phrase to describe his hold on the audience. I couldn’t believe the power of Little Richard on stage. He was amazing. Chuck Berry is my favorite, along with Bo (Diddley), but nobody could beat Little Richard’s stage act. Little Richard is the originator and my first idol.”

Little Richard grew up in a time and place – the American South – that could be very difficult for a black man. He never sang about racism, however, and downplayed his numerous encounters with racism, preferring to focus on the positive things that bring us together. Richard said on the subject: “We are all God’s bouquet, we all need each other the same as the birds need air.” He’s also maintained that homosexuals are equal in the eyes of God, stating: “God don’t just have Heaven for the straight man. Heaven is for all of us if we do his will.”

I have chosen just a couple of songs that I remember best from my youth as a way of paying tribute to Little Richard.

17 thoughts on “♫ R.I.P. Little Richard ♫

  1. Yesterday the music died–again. My sisters were all gaga over him back in the 50s. They played his music–and that electrified me. Started me growing up. There was excitement in the world. A reason to be alive! Ah, the craziness. Wonderful!

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  2. Jill, very few people could be called an original, but Little Richard is definitely one. There is never been anyone else like him. There are many that are influenced by him, that copied certain attributes, but the electricity from his early performances is truly amazing.

    Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis were very talented and electrifying as well, but they benefitted by being crossover white performers. Little Richard and Chuck Berry had more to overcome to be heard. It should be noted Little Richard was taken advantage of as well when someone bought his music rights for a bargain.

    The world has lost one of its greatest rock and roll icons. Keith

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    • I fully agree … he was an original and more than just a musician, he was a high-energy performer, an entertainer. I wasn’t aware that he had come out on the losing end of selling his music rights … what a damn shame! Yes, another one of the greats is gone. Sigh.

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  3. I remember as a little black girl seeing him on television. He had more energy than ten men. Because only a few televisions existed in our neighborhood, when he or James brown or any blacks performed on TV, we would gather to see them, just so proud to see someone who looked like us. It’s sad that we are losing them all, but that’s life.

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    • He absolutely did have more energy than any I have ever seen since, and today’s music simply cannot compare. Thanks for sharing your memories … I can picture it now! You’re right … it is sad … I hope I’m not around when Stevie Wonder or Lionel Richie die, for my heart will truly break.

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