He's "the architect, the innovator" of rock and roll -- or so he tells everyone, as he did at the '93 Grammys, accepting his Lifetime Achievement Award. If Macon, Georgia-born Richard Wayne Penniman isn't, who is? His little-heard 1951-1953 recordings were superb R&B. And during rock's infancy, he shocked the world with his 1955 hit "Tutti Frutti" -- not only exposing unsanitized, crazed, vocally belted black rock and roll to mixed audiences, but simultaneously embedding the feral into the genre forever.
Mr. Flamboyant himself, with outrageous pompadour, blatant bisexuality, and trademark "whoo!," Richard's '50s songs for Specialty were equally extraordinary -- covered by everyone from Jerry Lee Lewis, the Beatles, and the Kinks on out -- but no one outside of prime-era Lewis could approach his wild ferocity. Now 73 and tamer, he's still quick on the piano keys and as extroverted and colorful as ever, swabbing his face with tissues after every number. He can become distracted by audience requests, playing mere impromptu snatches. But his zeal and zest are undying; i.e., he doesn't just play Little Richard, the public persona; he is Little Richard! "Whoo!"
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