“Elvis may be the King of Rock and Roll, but I am the Queen.”
– Richard Penniman
Reading the “authorized” biography of Richard Penniman, i.e. Little Richard, The Life and Times of Little Richard, is part joy, part chore. The author, Charles White, hasn’t so much written a biography as compiled and organized interviews with Little Richard, several of his siblings, his mother, his on again off again manager Bumps Blackwell, and others who moved into and out of his life. This has advantages and disadvantages. The greatest advantage is that Little Richard, whose interviews dominate the book as one might expect, gets to tell his own story as he recollects it. The greatest disadvantage is that – Little Richard gets to tell his own story as he recollects it. This makes for fascinating reading but its reliability is only as trustworthy as the memory of the interviewee. That said, let’s say simply that Little Richard is a great storyteller.
As one reads The Life and Times of Little Richard, what emerge poignantly are the conflicts in Richard Penniman’s psyche. Torn between his love of rock and roll and his love of religion, torn between his “homosexuality” (though more likely he is bi-sexual given his own descriptions of his relationships with men and women) and his desire to be “normal,” torn between his love of public adulation and his desire to be a good son and brother, torn between his status as a major star and the prejudice and mistreatment he encountered as a black man, Little Richard is the victim of enough cognitive dissonance for at least three people. Continue reading