L.A. Memories Of Little Richard From A Writer Who Knew Him Well
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Little Richard died today from bone cancer at the age of 87.
His influence on pop music and culture can not be overstated. He and Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry have all been credited with creating rock 'n' roll, but Richard was the one who mixed R&B with his own riotous sound to create music that thrilled teenagers and terrified their parents. As Richard often said, he was the King -- and the Queen -- of rock 'n' roll.
And his fame took him onto the big screen, in films such as "The Girl Can't Help It."
In 1986, Richard was one of the 10 original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1993 was awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
But Richard was a struggling performer in 1955 when he signed with the Los Angeles label, Specialty Records, which would release his biggest hits.
He would soon buy a house in L.A.'s Lafayette Park neighborhood, reportedly next door to boxer Joe Louis. And through much of the 1980s and '90s, he lived in the Hyatt Hotel on the Sunset Strip (now the Andaz West Hollywood).
L.A.-based writer Emory Holmes II met Little Richard and his producer, Bumps Blackwell, at a press conference around 1980. Holmes recalls: "After I corrected Richard about a detail of his own early career, Bumps grabbed me following the event and asked, 'Do you have a car?' I said yes.
"I stayed with them, as a driver and aide, until Bumps died in '85, and served as one of his pall bearers with Quincy Jones and Casey Kasem. Richard, dressed in a sequined jacket, was the officiant at the funeral. The Angeles Funeral Home on Crenshaw was packed; the altar heaped with flowers. At one point in the service, Richard looked around and said, 'What beautiful flowers! Bumps would have loved them. But why didn't any of you think to bring him flowers while he was still alive? That's when he needed them.'"
Holmes says he occasionally heard about Richard over the next several years, particularly when he would show up to check on Blackwell's sister, Rose. She had fed and sheltered Richard and several other of Bumps' protégées, including Sam Cooke, when they were just starting out in their careers:
"One memorable instance that Rose shared with me was in 1992 when she was lying gravely ill from cancer as the fires from the L.A. riots ravaged her south L.A. neighborhood. Richard, it must be noted, could be both selfish and cruel, but could also be quite loving, sentimental and tender. He viewed Rose as his second mother.
"I had called Rose to ask if there was anything she needed to withstand the perils and privations of the riot. I got together a care package of food and water and other necessities and drove through the burning city to her home between Main and Central, walled in by raging fire and smoke. I cooked dinner for Rose, and we ate by candlelight as she lay in bed.
"Once she regained her wits and composure, wistfully, she said to me. 'Guess who visited me yesterday?' 'Who?,' I asked. 'Richard,' she replied, in a voice both amazed and proud. 'I heard a commotion outside, and it was Richard arriving in his long white limo. The neighbor kids had all run out of their houses and were chasing the limo, cheering and calling out his name. Richard came in with his Bible. He stayed with me and prayed for more than an hour. It was just beautiful. Even the devil can do good every once in a while.'"
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