On May 9, 2020, the world lost a true music legend, a rock and roll hero. Richard Wayne Penniman, affectionately known as Little Richard, succumbed to cancer. Little Richard is “The Architect” of modern music. His charismatic showmanship, wild piano playing, and raspy, shouted, and innovative vocals laid the solid foundation upon which rock and roll has been built. Little Richard’s uptempo music rhythms and beats contributed to other genres of modern music, such as soul and funk.
Little Richard influenced a new generation of performers, such as James Brown and Otis Redding, and he continues to influence artists to this very day. The British Invasion of the 60’s would have been a mere flash in the pan if it weren’t for Little Richard paving the way for groups like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. More current performers, such as Bruno Mars, has emulated Little Richard’s style. Even rappers and hip hop artists, such Andre 3000 and Outkast, have been influenced by Little Richard. One can make the argument that Prince copied Little Richard’s appearance and persona. Interestingly, even wrestling star Marc Mero assumed the ring character of a flamboyant Little Richard look-alike.
Little Richard brought everyone together during a time of “Jim Crow” and racial tensions. Little Richard managed to break the ”color line;” his music reached audiences of all races. Little Richard managed to bring White and Black people together, despite efforts to maintain a strict policy of racial separation.
More than anything else, Little Richard embodied the true spirit of rock and roll with his explosive, spine-tinkling music and his captivating persona that brought everyone together. And that is what Rock and Roll is all about!
John Di Genio