So many anniversaries, so little time…
Sunday marked the seventy-eighth birthday of the "architect of rock & roll" Little Richard—a true cultural pioneer when he burst on the scene in late 1955 with his first chart hit "Tutti Frutti."
Elvis Presley of course was the one who put R&R on the map in the following year, but it was Little Richard Penniman's screaming vocals and wild piano-pounding—inciting teen hysteria (and occasional riots) at many of his gigs—that made rock & roll dangerous, and therefore all the more attractive to young audiences. (Imagine the backlash if the culture police knew he was also gay!)
But after a string of raucous hits (including "Long Tall Sally," "Lucille," and "Rip It Up") Richard left show business in 1957 when he literally "saw the light"—a flaming streak in the night sky, which he took as a sign from God to quit rock & roll and become a preacher (a logical conclusion that anyone would take).
The light turned out to be the Russian satellite Sputnik, but he nevertheless abandoned his tour the next day.