Today the music world is still mourning over the sad news that came in over the weekend. Little Richard, the self described ‘king and queen’ or rock n’ roll has died. He was 87.
Image Credit: Daily Express
Bill Sobel, a lawyer who represents Little Richard, reported that the singer died of bone cancer. He had been battling the disease for quite some time. He died on Saturday in Tullahoma, TN, a suburb just outside Nashville.
Little Richard was born in Macon, GA in 1932. His birth name was Richard Penniman. Penniman started his career in the 1940’s but he really broke through when he signed with Specialty Records in 1955. He released several well known hits with the label including Lucille, Good Golly Miss Molly and Long Tall Sally.
But it wasn’t just Richard’s songwriting that set him apart. He also had a flamboyant on stage style. He was known for his mascaraed eyes, his potato starched pompadour and his lewd conduct for which he was arrested at least twice.
His shocking ways also came through in his lyrics. His breakthrough single Tutti Fruitti was about gay sex and originally featured the lyrics, “If it don’t fit, don’t force it/ You can grease it, make it easy”. The song’s producer, Bumps Blackwell, suggested he clean the song up so Richard replaced the lyrics with something like, “Awopbopaloobop-alopbamboom!” These kind of nonsense lyrics defined a style that went hand and hand with early rock n’ roll.
Despite having found unprecedented success in rock n roll, Richard’s career didn’t last long. In 1957, the singer was touring Australia and saw a fireball in the sky. He took it as a sign from God that he should change his ways. In 1958 he became a preacher. He returned to secular music in 1962 but he remained conflicted between good and evil for the rest of his life.
His sexuality was also a source of contention for Richard. He talked about being bisexual or omnisexual but claimed to have renounced his omnisexuality with God before his death.
However, it was not Richard’s sexual conflicts but rather his music that set him apart. Here is what other musicians had to say about how Richard influenced their careers.
“I could do Little Richard’s voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing. It’s like an out-of-body experience,” Paul McCartney said. “You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it. You have to actually go outside yourself.”
Bryan Ferry, the lead singer of Roxy Music, said Richard “hit me and the rest of my generation like a bolt of lightning”.
Singer Patti Smith remembers that the song Tutti Fruitti “exploded when I was eight years old, awakening a positive anarchy in a little girl’s heart. Nothing was the same after hearing his exciting and excitable voice … Farewell voice of an age; he commingles with the firmament now”.
Little Richard was synonymous with rock n roll and his death marks the end of an era. His legend lives on in the hearts of many.