Awopbopaloobop alopbamboom
May 9, 2020 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Little Richard, rock’n’roll pioneer, dies aged 87. Richard Penniman began performing in his teens but didn’t find success until his 40s when he released a string of wildly popular singles— Tutti Frutti, Long Tall Sally, Rip It Up, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille, Keep A-Knockin’ and Good Golly, Miss Molly, among others. He was known for his outrageous performance style – eyes lined with mascara, brightly coloured clothes – which was echoed later by Prince.
posted by stillmoving (98 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

This year, man...
posted by SisterHavana at 7:57 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]

Argh. Echoed later by every other rock icon, really. I think it would be hard to overstate the man's influence on popular music and the sartorial choices of popular musicians.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:58 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]

A more detailed obit from the Beeb here:
posted by stillmoving at 8:01 AM on May 9

posted by misteraitch at 8:05 AM on May 9

Rolling Stone
posted by adamvasco at 8:07 AM on May 9


posted by Fizz at 8:08 AM on May 9 [8 favorites]

After 2020 ticks over at midnight on New Years, we go straight to 2030, right?

posted by Godspeed.You!Black.Emperor.Penguin at 8:12 AM on May 9

Damn, just the other day I was thinking about how he and Jerry Lee Lewis were pretty much the only two original rockers left.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:14 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

posted by Catblack at 8:16 AM on May 9

Wop bop a loo bop a lop bam boom in peace, Mr. Penniman.

Tutti Frutti was one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar and one of the first my high school rock band played.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:17 AM on May 9 [5 favorites]

posted by Foosnark at 8:18 AM on May 9

I'm sure rock and roll would still have existed without Little Richard, but it would have been boring.

posted by NoMich at 8:18 AM on May 9 [16 favorites]

Speaking of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard was certainly nicer to his pianos than was Lewis. Great musician. R.I.P.
posted by kozad at 8:23 AM on May 9

Yes, it's a sad day... but he packed a LOT of living into 87 years.

From another post, C.A.S. wrote this:

Nothing has cracked me up more than the tales from Little Richard's book about the early days of rock and roll. Given that Buddy has the sock-hop innocent image, I don't know how many people have a picture in their mind of Little Richard/Buddy Holly threesomes. I'm tempted to quote a few passages for the laughs, but it is severely NSFW so I'll just link to a few extremely dirty/funny excerpts.

And the music was divine. This is what my kids and I are listening to today.
posted by dfm500 at 8:26 AM on May 9 [21 favorites]

It might be possible to have a bigger impact on popular music than Little Richard did, but I'd be damned if I could tell you how. R.I.P.
posted by HunterFelt at 8:30 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

posted by Frayed Knot at 8:31 AM on May 9

posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:38 AM on May 9

posted by potrzebie at 8:41 AM on May 9

posted by octothorpe at 8:44 AM on May 9

Sad, yes, but man, what a musical and cultural legacy did he leave behind! Chuck Berry didn't close this time.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:45 AM on May 9

When we heard about the death of Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider earlier this week, somebody quickly compared Kraftwerk to the Beatles in terms of their impact on the culture. Which I quickly thought was missing the mark, there really being no other single musical artist who so impacted things from so many directions and absolutely cashed in on it (ie: had record sales etc to match their influence) as the Beatles did. Because in the end, Kraftwerk only really had two or three big hits, I'm pretty sure, and none of those in the USA. But in terms of overall influence on how the so-called modern world sounds, looks, feels -- I think you could argue they've had as much influence as anyone.

Similar to Little Richard.

posted by philip-random at 8:47 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

Wow, we just watched Catalina Caper in MST3k Club Thursday night, in which Little Richard was one of the high points. RIP RWP.
posted by valkane at 8:50 AM on May 9 [8 favorites]

posted by Sphinx at 8:51 AM on May 9

This was an interesting article about a little-known influence of his.
posted by thelonius at 8:58 AM on May 9 [11 favorites]

I knew Little Richard more as a personality than a musician -- his music was well before my time -- but even so, his presence was off the charts. And he would pop up at the most unexpected places, like on Miami Vice, and it was always fantastic. That guy was such a performer, great at everything.

posted by Capt. Renault at 8:59 AM on May 9

I think the post text needs fixed....He didn’t turn 40 until 1972.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:04 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]

posted by skye.dancer at 9:08 AM on May 9


We watched The Girl Can't Help It [YouTube link] last night in Plague Movie Club, he was so alive on stage in such a weird, stilted movie.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 9:13 AM on May 9

posted by tommasz at 9:29 AM on May 9

posted by Splunge at 9:34 AM on May 9

posted by Going To Maine at 9:36 AM on May 9

posted by Reverend John at 9:39 AM on May 9

posted by detachd at 9:40 AM on May 9

Yeah, Lucille was my fave...

posted by jim in austin at 9:48 AM on May 9 [2 favorites]

posted by Halloween Jack at 10:08 AM on May 9

Little Richard at the 1988 Grammy Awards presenting Best New Artist.

He's right, they never gave him nothin'. But he gave us everything. Woooooooo!

posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 10:20 AM on May 9 [7 favorites]

We watched "The Girl Can't Help It" last night in Plague Movie Club, he was so alive on stage

It's a great film, also to see Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent and Fats Domino; but let's cut right to the chase for the amazing Little Richard performance during the "Ask my agent" scene.
posted by Rash at 10:22 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

Little Richard at the 1988 Grammy Awards presenting Best New Artist.

Came to post that link; it's perfect. The good stuff starts at 1:28.
posted by mediareport at 10:30 AM on May 9 [4 favorites]

On the Kraftwerk and modern music angle: I was realizing when I saw the headlines for Little Richard that he existed before and after both Florian Schneider and Genesis P. Orridge, that those two people and the musical movements they started (electro and industrial music and other related beats and experimental oriented music) are basically both contained within the span of Little Richard's life.

This blows my fucking mind. History and time is weird as hell.

And that jam band in heaven is getting a bit crowded now.
posted by loquacious at 10:35 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]

He was one of a kind and he shaped the world around him.

posted by hippybear at 11:00 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

Back when I did comedy I had a joke: Rich Little and Little Richard are going to star in a remake of Poor Little Rich Girl. It's going to be called Poor Little Rich Little Little Richard Rich Girl.

I wasn't very funny.

BTW: Rich Little lives on.
B&BTW: Farrah Fawcett and Burl Ives starred in the 1987 film Poor Little Rich Girl.

posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:09 AM on May 9 [10 favorites]

I saw Little Richard at the Atlantic City Pop Festival in 1969, two weeks before Woodstock. At the time, I thought of him as my older sister's generation, not someone who would be at this kind of event.
Janis Joplin was the penultimate act- she had the crowd on its feet. Little Richard followed Janis, starting with a slow ballad on the piano.
Then he said something like "now let's have some rock and roll". He jumped up on the piano and the crowd was with him. We were up on our seats. He was the perfect way to end the weekend.
What a great performer.
posted by MtDewd at 11:21 AM on May 9 [20 favorites]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 11:23 AM on May 9

My first encounter with Little Richard as a person (not just hearing his songs) was watching him play Old King Cole on Mother Goose Rock 'n' Rhyme as a kid. I must have watched it a million times when I was little.
posted by downtohisturtles at 11:25 AM on May 9 [1 favorite]

Folks of my generation may also remember Little Richard from the Magic School Bus theme song!
posted by ChuraChura at 11:26 AM on May 9 [6 favorites]

posted by dogstoevski at 12:10 PM on May 9

thank you sir for giving us an iconic scene in predator
posted by poffin boffin at 12:10 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]


Incidentally, "Tutti Frutti" was released right before he turned 23, so you might want to see about changing that "...didn’t find success until his 40s..." part of the post. Man, this sucks really bad. It's been a worse year in many ways than 2016, and that year could get stuffed.
posted by frodisaur at 12:23 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]

Little Richard Boogie
posted by y2karl at 12:39 PM on May 9

He was himself.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:56 PM on May 9

posted by Mutant Lobsters from Riverhead at 1:11 PM on May 9

Also, too: Little Richard in Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Like James Brown in Rocky IV, maybe not where you’d expect to see them, but they still got it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:19 PM on May 9 [2 favorites]

posted by praemunire at 3:24 PM on May 9

posted by droplet at 3:53 PM on May 9

posted by Kattullus at 4:01 PM on May 9

posted by SonInLawOfSam at 4:48 PM on May 9

posted by condour75 at 5:29 PM on May 9

posted by lapolla at 5:37 PM on May 9

posted by riverlife at 5:53 PM on May 9

posted by GenjiandProust at 6:02 PM on May 9

For those of us born after his heyday, I don't know if there's any way we can truly grasp what a transgressive, virtually unprecedented star he was. You watch that old footage of him just tearing it up, and it must have seemed freaking apocalyptic to a lot of people who were used to stuff like Bing Crosby and Glenn Miller. It was the freaking fifties, blacks were getting lynched and queers were shunned like child molesters, and then along comes this fabulous, strutting creature. He was everything America was trying to keep shoved in the closet, but he'd kicked his way out and now he was just howling at the kids!

Good night, sweet rock n' roll prince. And flights of angels wearing eyeliner and spangles sing thee to thy rest.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:08 PM on May 9 [38 favorites]

Radical Rocker RIP.
posted by Liquidwolf at 6:24 PM on May 9

posted by evilDoug at 6:24 PM on May 9

Underscoring Ursula Hitler's point, he basically created a thing out of whole cloth that lead to everything you know up until Hip Hop came on the scene. THAT is what Little Richard did.
posted by hippybear at 6:34 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]

posted by showall at 6:43 PM on May 9

Undeniable. One of the last of the originals!

he basically created a thing out of whole cloth

Not to take anything away from his obvious greatness, but he got pretty much everything from two people: Esquerita and out-40-years-before-Richard Billy Wright. Little Richard was the one who was able to put it all together and make it popular, which makes allll the difference.

posted by rhizome at 7:07 PM on May 9 [6 favorites]


Props to one of the pioneer game-changers in pop music.

Alan Freed (pioneer rock DJ & champion) introduces this 'Long Tall Sally' (SLYT) romp. (Notice the leg-up on the piano at 1:11! Would could Jerry Lewis do then?)

Prior to Richard, pop tunes had safe-enough-for-Branson titles like 'How Much Is That Doggie In The Window?"

Competition so fierce, even Frank Sinatra complained.
posted by Twang at 7:09 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]

posted by Mister Bijou at 7:37 PM on May 9

Hail & Farewell to the King AND Queen of Rock & Roll.
posted by ahimsakid at 9:04 PM on May 9

Attention Pat Boone: "Tutti Frutti" is about fucking. Please make a note of it.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:36 PM on May 9 [5 favorites]

Maybe Pat Boone fucked ice cream. (Vanilla only, of course.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:53 PM on May 9

Alan Freed (pioneer rock DJ & champion) introduces this 'Long Tall Sally' (SLYT) romp.

I had totally forgotten this; my mother is 5’8” and called Sally. The guys used to sing this song to her when she walked in the local bar.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:58 PM on May 9 [1 favorite]

posted by brujita at 11:53 PM on May 9

Little Richard on the idea of Chuck Berry closing a show after his performance

The whole of that interview is well worth watching. A lot of the obits will mention Little Richard's hits and performance style - all well known. But he was so pioneering in terms of being a flamboyant, idiosyncratic one-of-a kind genius who delighted in telling tales both tall and true - and who would absolutely challenge anybody to doubt his greatness. Rock and Roll had many pioneers but it would have been hard to imagine Elvis Presley or Mick Jagger or even James Brown given an interview like that in the early 70s: he made everyone else look square.

posted by rongorongo at 12:23 AM on May 10

posted by filtergik at 2:55 AM on May 10

posted by eirias at 3:33 AM on May 10

♪ + Ω
posted by Smart Dalek at 3:34 AM on May 10

posted by dannyboybell at 4:26 AM on May 10

posted by fourpotatoes at 4:53 AM on May 10

Bob Dylan:
I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved. He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.

I played some shows with him in Europe in the early nineties and got to hang out in his dressing room a lot. He was always generous, kind and humble. And still dynamite as a performer and a musician and you could still learn plenty from him.

In his presence he was always the same Little Richard that I first heard and was awed by growing up and I always was the same little boy. Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone.
posted by octothorpe at 6:45 AM on May 10 [7 favorites]

Incidentally, "Tutti Frutti" was released right before he turned 23, so you might want to see about changing that "...didn’t find success until his 40s..."

I wasn’t going to say anything, but I wondered at the math as well. If he died at 87, that would make him 37 in 1970. I don’t think of his major hits as being contemporaneous with ABBA.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:51 AM on May 10

Little Richard livens up the Dick Cavett show in 1970; If you don't want to watch the video, Greil Marcus wrote about it here. I assume this is what Fizz was referring to.

posted by TedW at 7:39 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

That John Waters piece is a wonderful read, chavenet; thanks.

There's a nice few pages about Little Richard in Darryl Bullock's 2017 lgbt music history David Bowie Made Me Gay (can't recommend this great book highly enough; it begins in New Orleans in 1910 with the "defiantly homosexual" Tony Jackson, mentor to an adoring Jelly Roll Morton), with some quotes from David Bowie you can read here:

When asked who or what first made him want to sing, Bowie said: "Little Richard. If it hadn't been for him, I probably wouldn't have gone into music. For a couple of years, that was my ambition, to be in a band playing saxophone behind Little Richard. That's why I got a saxophone...when I heard Little Richard, I mean, it just set my world on fire." Bowie later said that, after his father bought him a copy of Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti," that "I had heard God."

I was glad to see the obits in mainstream outlets like the BBC and NYT don't shy away from Little Richard's "omnisexuality." In that spirit, here's the bit from Charles White's authorized biography where Little Richard claims to have had a quick backstage threesome [nsfw] with his dancer girlfriend Lee Angel and Buddy Holly. Just before, he tells a story about Buddy Holly bringing him home for dinner in Lubbock, Texas and Holly's father refusing to let him in. Buddy Holly replied, "If you don't let Richard in, I'll never come back to this house again." I hope at least one of those stories is true.
posted by mediareport at 11:34 AM on May 10 [2 favorites]

posted by dbiedny at 11:48 AM on May 10

The Oxford American ran this, about Little Richard's life in 2015, a few years back: Prayers for Richard.
posted by box at 12:53 PM on May 10


(Since it's come up a couple of times now, it seems like someone should mention that Lee Angel has denied the story about Buddy Holly in the biography GQ Men of the Year 2010, Legend: Little Richard.)
posted by wobh at 7:12 PM on May 10 [1 favorite]

posted by treepour at 7:21 PM on May 10

Speaking of Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard was certainly nicer to his pianos than was Lewis.

Or not (from wobh's link):
Whereas Jerry Lee Lewis plays the piano with a frenetic but essentially light touch, Richard has on occasion struck bass notes with such force that he has broken 80 gauge (heavy duty) piano strings: something that Bumps Blackwell (who died in 1985) said he saw accomplished four times by Little Richard, but never by any other performer.
posted by pmurray63 at 8:29 PM on May 10 [2 favorites]

posted by materialgirl at 8:50 PM on May 10

posted by daybeforetheday at 3:34 AM on May 11

posted by Gelatin at 4:59 AM on May 11

Too black, too queer, too holy: why Little Richard never truly got his dues by Tavia Nyong'o. Excerpt:
These transgressively queer performers of a bawdy, sped-up blues, and the black publics they performed it for, were overlooked by a generation of white male critics and collectors eager to fetishise the rural: Robert Johnson standing at a lonesome crossroads in the Mississippi Delta. As historian Marybeth Hamilton notes, rock’n’roll was thought by these critics to be “a factory product that diluted, even perverted, black performance traditions for sale to undiscerning consumers who, if anything, preferred the fake stuff to the real”.

Yet the urban blues – in which black women’s voices and concerns had been central since the 1920s – supplied the soundtrack to a black sexual underground that was remarkably widespread, durable, and even popular in the Jim Crow era. Take the jump blues of Billy Wright, the “slow drag” vocal style of Big Maybelle, or the “hip shakin’ mama” Patsy Vidalia, the drag queen who MCed New Orleans club the Dew Drop Inn and threw the city’s annual Gay Ball. Although the crossover from this rhythm and blues to rock’n’roll might have meant the loss of an audience that knew the song Lucille was about a drag queen, or that Tutti Frutti began as an ode to anal sex, the frank and exuberant world from which they – and Little Richard – sprang, has left plenty of evidence for black feminist, queer, and trans musical histories to uncover (and for motivated digital crate-diggers to seek out).
posted by Kattullus at 8:17 AM on May 14 [3 favorites]

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