He claims to be “the architect of rock and roll,” and history would seem to bear out Little Richard’s boast. More than any other performer - save, perhaps, Elvis Presley, Little Richard blew the lid off the Fifties, laying the foundation for rock and roll with his explosive music and charismatic persona. On record, he made spine-tingling rock and roll. His frantically charged piano playing and raspy, shouted vocals on such classics as “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly” defined the dynamic sound of rock and roll. Onstage, he’d deliver wild, piano-pounding epistles while costumed in sequined vests, mascara, lipstick, and a pompadour that shook with every thundering beat. His road band, the Upsetters, has been credited by James Brown and others with first putting the funk in the rock and roll beat.
In a 1990 interview, Little Richard offered this explanation for the birth of rock: “I would say that boogie-woogie and rhythm & blues mixed is rock and roll.” His frenzied approach to music was fueled by a genuinely outrageous personality. He was born Richard Penniman during the Depression in Macon, Georgia, one of twelve children who grew up in poverty in the Deep South. As a youngster, he soaked up music - blues, country, gospel, vaudeville - which was part of the fabric of life in the black community. He learned to play piano from an equally flamboyant character named Esquerita (who also recorded rock and roll early on for Capitol Records).