Little Richard’s career as a musician spans more than sixty years, although some of his most influential work was in the 1950s. He has been referred to as the architect of rock and roll due to his influence on the creation of the genre, and he is also seen as an influential figure in the genres of funk, soul, and R&B. His work has even been said to have had an impact on later hip hop artists. Even the Library of Congress recognized his impact on the music industry in 2010, when they added his 1955 single “Tutti Frutti” to the National Recording Registry.
Not only was Little Richard one of the first singers to ever utilize his particular style of vocals, recording them over a strong beat with a fast-paced rhythm, but his stage presence was also unique for his time. He was known for his ostentatious style of dress, as well as his penchant for pancake makeup. He did not invent the notion of wearing makeup (it was also being worn by his contemporaries in groups such as the Drifters, the Coasters and the Cadillacs), but he wore so much of it that people actually questioned his sexuality. Nonetheless, his appearance was memorable, and made an impact upon his audiences.
When Little Richard was first popularizing rock and roll, he encountered resistance. Many referred to his style as “voodoo music” or “African music,” and it was considered by a number of parents to be a bad influence on children and teenagers. Others felt that the style was simply a fad, and would fade out in time. Some simply did not like that so many white kids were buying albums by a black recording artist, and some of Little Richard’s most successful live performances were followed by demands that he not return to the venue. The audiences at his shows were also segregated, with white audience members confined to the balcony. This resulted in injuries, as many teenagers would leap from the balconies in order to be closer to the music.
Despite the resistance he received, Little Richard often recorded for the sake of recording itself. He was able to make up songs nearly on the spot, resulting in a number of hits that were known for their music but contained relatively simple and repetitive lyrics. This was often the case with songs such as “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” His music was so influential that Michael Jackson once offered him a writing job, although he decided to turn it down.
Little Richard is one of the oldest names in rock and roll. His voice, his musicianship, and his general style (in terms of both sound and appearance) can never quite be imitated by anyone. He has appeared in dozens of films, often playing himself in films such as the Frankie Lymon biopic Why Do Fools Fall in Love. His influence is staggering, and he still performs everything from rock and roll to gospel with the same energy and showmanship that made him famous more than sixty years ago.
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