In the last week I’ve received the following link from three different friends who know that I am a child of rock & roll and that I especially love good, old-fashion, whore house piano. The link is always presented as “rare footage of Little Richard when he was just starting out in the music biz’ … from some movie with Van Johnson ..”
Well, I hate to rain on everyone’s parade (if you believe that statement you probably also believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and that Republicans only work for the interests of ordinary people) but that’s NOT Little Richard.
It’s Frank Isaac Robinson who was known in his early career as Sugar Chile Robinson. He won a talent show at the Paradise Theatre in Detroit at the age of three, and in 1945 played guest spots at the theatre with Lionel Hampton. That clip is from the movie No Leave, No Love. In 1946, he played for President Harry S. Truman at the White House at the, shouting out “How’m I Doin’, Mr President?”
Here’s a clip from when he was playing with Count Basie’s band:
He stopped recording in 1952, later explaining: “I wanted to go to school… I wanted some school background in me and I asked my Dad if I could stop, and I went to school because I honestly wanted my college diploma.” He earned a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Michigan.
He gave up music for a long time In recent years he has made a comeback as a musician with the help of the American Music Research Foundation.
Little Richard (née Richard Wayne Penniman) on the other hand didn’t begin performing on stage and on the road in 1945, when he was in his early teens although he and his family performed in local churches as The Penniman Singers. At that time he was called “War Hawk” because of his loud, screaming singing voice. In October 1951, he began recording “jump blues” records for RCA Camden.
Little Richard’s first film performance was in Allen Freed’s movie The Girl Can’t Help It in 1956:
The original title of the song was “Tutti Frutti, good booty” but was cleaned up to “Tutti Frutti, aw-rooty”
While the song hasn’t changed in the intervening half century Little Richard sure has:
In early October 1957, on the fifth date of a two-week tour of Australia was flying from Melbourne to appear in front of 40,000 fans in concert in Sydney Shocked by the red hot appearance of the engines against the night sky, he envisioned angels holding up the plane. Then, while he performed at the stadium, he was shaken by the sight of a ball of fire that he watched streak across the sky overhead. He took what was actually the launching of Sputnik 1 as another sign to quit show business and follow God. The plane that he was originally scheduled to fly back home on ended up crashing in the Pacific Ocean which he took as confirmation that he was doing what God wanted him to do and he quit at the height of his career.
rom October 1957 to 1962, Little Richard only recorded gospel music:
As we all know he returned to secular music in the ’80s. Little Richard is a complicated guy and if you’re interested there’s a great biography of him on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Little_Richard
You can also read a lot more about Sugar Chile Robinson, too: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugar_Chile_Robinson
Class dismissed, children. There will be no test on this subject.