Little Richard: An Ecstasy You Couldn’t Refuse

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tags: obituaries, music, rock and roll, popular culture

Wild and outrageous don’t begin to describe Little Richard. He hit American pop like a fireball in the mid-1950s, a hopped-up emissary from cultures that mainstream America barely knew, drawing on the sacred and the profane, the spiritual and the carnal. He had deep experience in the sanctified church and in the chitlin’ circuit of African-American clubs and theaters, along with drag shows, strip joints and, even in the 20th century, minstrel shows.

He had a voice that could match the grit of any soul shouter ever, along with an androgynous, exultant falsetto scream that pushed it into overdrive. He plowed across the piano with a titanic gospel-and-boogie left hand and a right hand that hammered giant chords and then gleefully splintered them.

He had the stage savvy of a longtime trouper, built by a decade of performing before he recorded “Tutti Frutti.” He had a spectacular presence in every public appearance: eye-popping outfits, hip-shaking bawdiness, sly banter and a wild-eyed unpredictability that was fully under his control. He invented a larger-than-life role for himself and inhabited it whenever a camera or audience could see him.

Little Richard was a challenge to 1950s proprieties: to segregation, to musical decorum, to chastity, to straightness. And his genius, beyond the music that made everybody pay attention, was to embody that challenge not as an openly angry threat or a reactive counterattack, but as pure pleasure within reach, as the joy of sheer freedom.

Read entire article at New York Times

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