- 14 Mar 23
Reporting live from the SXSW 2023 festival in Austin, attendees were treated to a preview showing of Little Richard: I Am Everything, detailing the Black queer origins of rock n' roll. The documentary is set for release April 28th 2023.
Orgies, Jesus, wigs, cocaine, marriage, car crashes, integration, money, homosexuality and revelation, Richard did it all.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the name Little Richard? Piano? Jheri curl? Moustache? 1950s? There’s a scarce few buzzwords to describe the man that set the blueprint of how to be a rock ‘n’ roll icon.
The documentary charts how, in the 1950s, a black, queer man from the poorest part of Georgia, became one of the most influential artists in music. An architect that had a hand in the making of The Beatles, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and The Rolling Stones.
Unsurprisingly, for as great as Richard’s talent was, it wasn’t enough to shield him from the horrors of segregation in America. Often arrested by a racist establishment for simply creating an environment habitual for black and white people to mingle in clubs.
His life was smoke and mirrors. His big break was the song ‘Tutti Frutti’. However, the original lyrics might have raised questions about his sexuality. “Tutti Frutti, good booty / if it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy”. These anal sex inspired lyrics were dumbed down to “Tutti Frutti, aw rooty” (slang for all right).
As so often for young, black musicians, he was taken advantage of by record companies who short-changed him with lowball contracts. Even Elvis and Pat Boone covered ‘Tutti Fruity’, in a whitewash attempt to try to demolish his creation. “When you obliterate someone’s contributions to a culture, you not only take away their brilliance, but their ability to make money,” explains director Lisa Cortes to Indiewire.
His contradictions continued in to the 1960s when he vows to dedicate his life to the bible. A vow that dissipates and reappears throughout his life. Lisa Cortes untangles this dichotomy. “At times in his life he was very religious. At other times, he was living the full rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. He [Richard] inhabits this pendulum of a man trying to come to terms with being a man of faith, but also being queer. That creates tremendous inner turmoil, but music is his way of letting it all go and feeling closer to god.”
Little Richard: I Am Everything excellently unravels a man that was hiding in plain sight. A man that took tremendous leaps to create new sounds and bold aesthetics. A man that finally found the solace he had yearned for his entire life with belated recognition of his artistic contributions.
In summarising the film, Lisa Cortes says, “Little Richard means different things to different people depending on how old you are. The most important thing he means is about freedom of expression. To be as bold, as black, as gay, as white, as whatever you are because that’s the art that moves us forward, that changes culture to be representative of what we are all dreaming of.”
Little Richard: I Am Everything is set for release April 28th 2023.