Remembering Little Richard, a pop star like no other in the early days of rock and roll
‘There had never been sounds like this before … Richard took things to another level’
Little Richard, the self-described king, queen and architect of rock and roll, died on May 9, 2020 at age 87 — a grand old man of rock, but also eternally young.
He was a pop star like no other in the early days of rock and roll — black, openly gay and utterly wild, with a deep connection to the church. He taught the Beatles how to sing; he once fired Jimi Hendrix from his band; he attended divinity school; he became a celebrity wedding officiant; and he battled a $1,000-dollar-a-day drug habit.
"Little Richard was the quasar of rock and roll. He might as well have come from a different planet," said Rob Bowman, a Grammy-Award-winning music writer and professor of musicology at York University. "There had never been sounds like this before … Richard took things to another level."
This is game-changing stuff, and we're all better for it.- Rob Bowman
Bowman said Richard's voice was key to his magic as a performer. "Part of it was the sheer volume his voice was recorded at, but that wouldn't have mattered if he didn't have that incredible rasp and intensity to his voice. He basically put pressure on his larynx … It's a voice that can cut through molten lead," he said.
Little Richard influenced generations of performers, from the British Invasion bands to James Brown to Prince.
"Little Richard's legacy is really [being] one of the four or five founding fathers of rock and roll, and for my money, being the most intense, the wildest, the most exciting," said Bowman.
"This is game-changing stuff, and we're all better for it. You can argue that everything that's come since then, in the world of rock, owes something to Little Richard."
Click 'listen' above to hear the interview.