Little Richard has chosen his Maker over makeup. The ordained minister and self-described architect of rock-and-roll, in a rare interview with Christian program 3ABN Today Live, claims that in preparation for Judgment Day, he is no longer gay or dresses flamboyantly, declaring “my life is worth more than powder.”
The idol of The Beatles and David Bowie (another ambisexual provocateur), Little Richard began his career performing gospel music, until he came under the spell of singer Billy Wright, who wore makeup and performed in drag. Little Richard copied Wright’s flamboyant persona and showmanship, knowing that’s what audiences responded to. While Fats Domino sat tinkling the ivories, Little Richard stood majestically at the keyboard in a sparkly cape slippin’ and slidin’ all over the stage. If Elvis was all about sex, Little Richard was about gay sex, which must have scared the bejesus out of white America in the 1950s. Yet he is cited as being the first rock-and-roller who performed in front of mixed, interracial crowds. A sexual and civil rights pioneer!
His first hit, “Tutti Frutti” (dissected in the classic book What Was the First Rock’n’Roll Record), was a ribald song the singer used to perform on the Chitlin’ Circuit. In black gay circles, Tutti Frutti was slang for anal sex. During a break in recording, Richard sang the song for fun, which the record label quickly realized was a hit once the lyrics were cleaned up. When it became a bigger hit for singer Pat Boone, any understanding of the original song disappeared, lost inside the catchy rhythm. Any trace of Little Richard’s brilliance is now lost in this testifyin’ octogenarian, looking more like Muddy Waters than Dorian Corey.
So why a public mea culpa from the 84-year-old now? As a Seventh Day Adventist, he believes that Jesus is coming soon, and he’s not going to be caught in the ladies bathroom when it happens. See, he doesn’t believe in that either. God created men to be men and women to be women and not share each other’s bathrooms. The hosts of 3ABN Today Live quickly shouted “Amen” and “Hallelujah” to that statement. To them, this show business vet was a televangelist’s “get.” If we can turn Little Richard around, there’s still hope for Sam Smith.
Now the only person we want to hear chime in on the subject is Bette Midler, Richard’s co-star in Down and Out in Beverly Hills. What would the bawdy singer who started her career in a men’s bathhouse have to say about Little Richard turning his back on homosexuality? We can hear her now – “Turning his back? Oh please, honey. Don’t drop the soap!”