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  • Writer's pictureVânia Penha-Lopes


Little Richard died in Nashville today, at age 87.

He was another rock ‘n’ roll pioneer who was never given the proper respect he deserved, due in large part to racism and homophobia. For instance, Pat Boone, a bubble gum White singer, made millions with his cover of “Tutti Frutti.” However, he once declared that he thought the song was silly and that he recorded it only at the insistence of his manager.

In the Puritanical, pro-family, pronatalist 1950s United States, Little Richard appeared as a threat. Flamboyant, loud, and histrionic, he and his sex-tinged songs were outliers even for that ever alternative genre. A native of Macon, Georgia, famous for warning Negroes not to let the sun set on them and also for recurrent lynchings, Little Richard grew up to wow integrated audiences and to influence major singers and guitarists both Black and White, in the U.S. and abroad: Jimmi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and the British bands all acknowledged having drunk from Little Richard’s magic source.

The great, gone-to-soon, Otis Redding, a fellow Georgian, got his start in Little Richard’s band. That is why I chose to include here a clip from May 1989, when Otis was posthumously inducted in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Little Richard had the honor of representing Otis. Watch how he starts by singing “I Can’t Turn You Loose,” which at once makes us love him and miss Otis Redding even more. He followed that with “(Sittin’) On The Dock Of The Bay,” Otis Redding’s amazing hit that he didn’t get the chance to see go big all over the world 21 years earlier. Little Richard sang other Otis’ hits, and he sounded great and he knew he looked good. A close-up of the Hall of Fame audience showed Keith Richards going wild, huge Little Richard fan that he is.

And then there is the intimate, ever-loving way he treated Zelda Redding, Otis’ widow, when she joined him at the stage to received the award in her late husband’s behalf. Understandably, she got emotional, and Little Richard was emotional too. More than once, he said he hadn’t sung rock ‘n’ roll songs in 30 years, and that it felt good to do so. “Ooh, I feel so good!” He resumed singing the genre he helped develop in honor of Otis Redding. He felt good, we all felt good, and I bet Otis Redding’s soul felt good too. I hope the two of them are jamming together in Heaven.

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