About Little Richard
Many rock 'n' roll hits of the '50s might now sound almost tame. But even decades after they were first pounded out, Little Richard's singles have lost none of their shrieking-and-shouting intensity. And if they still feel like two-minutes-and-change jolts of pure joy today, they were blasts of liberation for teenagers in a decidedly more buttoned-up era. Macon, Georgia’s Richard Wayne Penniman, who died on May 9, 2020, brought the ecstatic belting of Baptist gospel into pop, blending it with the foot-stomping beat of the electrified blues. His gender-bending flamboyance shocked moralists while giving a voice to outsiders, scorching a path toward David Bowie's glam androgyny and Prince's gleefully pansexual revolution; the rip-it-up force of songs like "Lucille" and "Tutti Frutti" carried an unmistakable sexual charge. Those glorious torrents of wop-bop-a-loo-bop were barely concealed code for everything you didn't talk about in polite society, while also hitting you as pure ecstatic pop release. Meanwhile, his cross-cultural popularity was a battering ram against music's ruthlessly enforced racial barriers. Attacking his piano with an infectious sense of mayhem, Little Richard blurred the sacred and the profane into a scandalously beautiful roar.
BORNDecember 5, 1932