How Little Richard combated racism and homophobia through rock n' roll

Music news

How Little Richard combated racism and homophobia through rock n’ roll

If there is a genre that has benefited from the emergence of streaming platforms in our way of consuming films and series, it is the documentary. Particularly, true crimes and biographical ones. Within this last group is ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’, which premieres in theaters before going to the HBO Max catalog. The film, directed by Lisa Cortes, explores the influence of Little Richard and the difficulties he had to face as a black and gay man in an extremely conservative society marked by racial segregation.

Richard not only invented and consolidated rock and roll, but he was a clear example of LGBT visibility when there was no type of visibility and an essential reference for the freedom of future generations. Although unfortunately, this status was not achieved in its time of greatest commercial and artistic splendor. In fact, the music industry did everything possible to ensure that this new sound, which had its roots in gospel and innovative black musicians such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, was attributed to white artists such as Elvis Presley or Pat Boone, whose versions of ‘Tutti Frutti’ by Little Richard sold more copies than the original. Precisely this song serves as the perfect example to illustrate the transgressive mentality of its author: when he presented it for the first time in public, the lyrics spoke quite explicitly about anal sex.

The documentary shows Richard as someone tremendously ahead of his time, but also very marked by the rejection of what is different from the society in which he grew up. His ultra-religious upbringing often made him back away from whether what he was doing was really right or whether the way he behaved and showed himself to the world was ethical. This continuous conflict marks his entire personal and professional life, but the artist, as if he had something that called him within him, always returned to his extravagant personality, his overwhelming energy on stage and his irreverent attitude. before life.

In this regard, Lisa Cortes pays him a heartfelt tribute, praised by various interviews with black artists, musicologists and journalists who highlight the crucial importance that the figure of Little Richard had both in music and in society, and specifically in LGBT areas. . In the 50s, he was already a queer icon, although evidently neither he himself knew it, nor did those who saw him and saw themselves reflected in him know how to identify him. John Waters himself, who also participates in the film, comments on the impact that Richard’s songs and performances had on him as a child. But his influence goes far beyond sexual orientation and is directly reflected in the music and attitude of Mick Jagger and Paul McCartney, who, as they themselves acknowledge in the documentary, consider Little Richard as a kind of mentor.

These conversations, full of admiration and affection, and Richard’s always unpredictable statements taken from archival video interviews, are the best moments of ‘Little Richard: I Am Everything’, a film that always plays it safe and does not stand out. never from the established conventions of the medium. Cortes does not propose an innovative portrait, but rather resorts to effective – it must be said – didacticism to portray the racial and sexual freedom conflicts that the artist suffered throughout his career. “I Am Everything” is a sincere document, which works to pay tribute to Little Richard and bring his figure closer to those who are not familiar with his vital importance in music and LGBT rights.

Avatar photo
Simon Müller

Simon Müller is the driving force behind UMusic, embodying a lifelong passion for all things melodious. Born and raised in New York, his love for music took form at an early age and fueled his journey from an avid music enthusiast to the founder of a leading music-centered website. Simon's diverse musical tastes and intrinsic understanding of acoustic elements offer a unique perspective to the UMusic community. Sporting a dedicated commitment to aural enrichment and hearing health, his vision extends beyond just delivering news - he aspires to create a network of informed, appreciative music lovers. Spend a moment in Mueller's company, and you'd find his passion infectious – music isn’t simply his job, it’s his heartbeat.