Little Richard (Richard Penniman)
b. 1932, Macon, Georgia; d. May 9, 2020, Nashville, Tennessee
In the face of the constipated imitativeness of so much contemporary culture...here was someone who had excitement, energy, verve, but in the midst of all the confused racist tenor of the 1950s, with huge white audiences unsure of how to respond to the freedoms of this performer suddenly loosed upon them....
Below, Editor Eric Darton notes:
Later than the slightly more censorious 50s' when
Little Richard began. London, 1972
…Little Richard, as much or more than any figure of his day, had to euphemize and metaphorize almost every sentence he sang, or his records would have been banned from the airways.
He was in a sense, applying fig leaves to his full frontal lyrics. Otherwise, he’d have been heard by very few, and the juke joint shouting of which he became the most famous practitioner would never have become iconic. He may have modified the language, and sacrificed literality, but his delivery was so full of verbal raunch that it hardly mattered that the words had been self-bowdlerized. In fact, if you knew the code, his songs were even dirtier because everything was implied. And he got away with it. Plus it was all done with a knowing wink.
Chuck Berry worked that territory in a different style and often came close to the censorship line. But like LR, he was clever at veiling his lyrics just enough to skirt the obscenity police… “I looked at my watch, it was 9:43…” In the ’50s U.S. it was a question of not getting airplay or published, but the issue of how artists evade censorship is timeless.