Little Richard and Betty Wright's influence on Rhythm and Blues and Rock and Roll is unquestionable. Both of these music icons, created a music sound and style that helped move the music industry forward and has influenced some of this country's most important and adored atrtists.
Richard Wayne Penniman, known as Little Richard, was born in Macon Georgia, on December 5th, 1932. Like most Southern mucians during this era, his music sound was grounded in the black southern church and gospel music.
However, his flamboyant style and energetic piano playing was all Little Richard. In fact, in an interview with Rollingstone, he said that "I put that little thing in it,” the way he tweaked with his gospel roots. “I always did have that thing, but I didn’t know what to do with the thing I had.”
Little Richard would go on during the 1950's to write and record hits like, Tuti Frutti, Long Tall Sally, Slippin and Sliding, and Lucile, among others. In artist like Prince and Michael Jackson, perhaps his style and influence was easily recognized. However, artist such as The Beattles, The Rollingstones, Everly Brothers, Elvis Costello, and Creedence Clearwater Revival, embraced the music of Little Richard and pay homage to his influence on their work and Rock and Roll.
As an artist, Betty Wright will not be remebered perhaps for her flamboyant style or maybe even her energetic performances, but she will be remebered for her soulful voice and the doors that she opened for R&B singers during the 1970's.
Born December 21, 1953, in Miami, Florida, she recored her first song at the age of 14 and at 17, The Clean Up Woman, peaked at number 6, on the Biilboard Singles chart, giving her her first major hit.
Like little Richard, Betty Wright's soulful sound was firmly rooted in the black church and gospel music. However, she would go on to play a key role in creating the Miami Funk sound of the 1970's while later serving as a mentor to artist like KC and the Sunshine Band, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, Jennifer Lopez, Joss Stone, among many others.
While the music industry and fans will mourn losing both of these artists to cancer this weekend, there will be comfort in knowing their music will be here to influence future generations of artists and to be enjoyed by those who love their music.
For those who love classic R&B and Rock and Roll, don't forget that the Alachua County Library has a generous music CD collection just waiting for you. Just place your item on hold, wait for your notification, and then pick it up at the curbside of your nearest library.