The Genius of Little Richard Explored in New FilmBy Dwight Brown, NNPA Film Critic / May 12, 2023
To many, Little Richard lived a complicated life, from his outwardly gay and hypersexual ways to his brilliant but amazingly disrespected career.
Putting aside his personal and flamboyant lifestyle, one could find it hard to argue with Richard’s statement in “Little Richard: I Am Everything,” a new documentary by award-winning filmmaker Lisa Cortés.
“Michael Jackson was inspired by me. Prince. James Brown, I discovered him. Jimi Hendrix was my guitar player,” Richard says in the 98-minute film that includes homages from others he influenced, like Mick Jagger, John Waters and Billy Porter.Indeed, in one telling moment, while Richard inducts the late Otis Redding into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, Jagger sits in the audience listening intently and almost embarrassingly as Richard recounts how the Rolling Stones served as the flamboyant “Tutti Frutti” singer’s opening act and how he helped their careers.
Born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Ga., in 1932, Little Richard left his home as a young boy when his father discovered Richard was gay.
Cortés, who won an Emmy for The Apollo, and served as executive producer for the Oscar-winning film Precious, said Richard wasn’t just the king of rock ‘n’ roll but the architect.
“Little Richard is part of music history and the inspiration to many artists. Jimi Hendrix is playing in his band,” Cortés declared in an interview with “Let It Be Known,” the Black Press of America’s live morning news program.
“James Brown is brought to Macon, Ga., to record his first hit because of Little Richard. He’s a conductor on this little rock ‘n’ roll train.”
With Elvis Presley renowned as the king of rock ‘n’ roll mainly for mainstreaming Black music, the documentary leaves no doubt that Richard deserves that title and more.
“People knew his connection to the Beatles, but he talks about these five guys that he meets in Europe,” Cortés noted.
“But when he goes to Hamburg, Richard has one musician with him, a very young Billy Preston. So, he introduces Billy Preston to the Beatles. And as many people know, Billy Preston then goes on to be called what some people consider the fifth Beatle.
“So, you see the connection there. And you understand that he’s the catalyst and the inspiration for so many.”
Throughout his illustrious career, however, the music world failed to recognize the genius of Little Richard, and he continually reminded them of the egregious oversight.
In 1997, the American Music Awards finally gave Richard the recognition he craved and deserved.
In receiving the Award of Merit, the emotions Richard usually wore on his sleeve were revealed as plainly as ever.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said after composing himself during that ceremony.
The award’s inscription noted that Richard “is the founding father who sent rock ‘n’ roll into orbit with his super-charged performances and spirit. He’s served as an inspiration to his fellow artists.”
Unabashedly candid—and some might say conceited—Richard let loose.
“I am the originator. I am the emancipator. I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll,” he demanded.
“I am the man that started it all. I want you to know tonight that rhythm and blues had a baby, and somebody named it rock ‘n’ roll.”
Visit NNPA News Wire Film Critic Dwight Brown at BlackPressUSA.com.