Shortly after moving to Los Angeles, I made a trip to the post office in my neighborhood. After waiting for an excruciating long period of time, I noticed an elderly gentleman with makeup and and a pompadour wig enter with a bedazzled cane and sunglasses. After a few seconds, I also notice he is headed to the front of the line. He notices me glaring then turns around and yells, “Shut up.” I don’t have to tell you it was Little Richard and after my jaw dropped to the ground…I giggled at my most unusual welcome to LaLa Land.
Little Richard was like a bright comet who landed onto a planet ahead of his time with his music and how he navigated through life being unafraid and authentically himself paving the way for a multitude of musicians to follow for decades.
Director Lisa Cortés’ eye-opening documentary explodes the whitewashed canon of American pop music with Little Richard: I Am Everything shining a clarifying light on the Black, queer origins of rock ’n’ roll through the genre’s splashiest entertainer.
Cortés takes us to church, while providing a treasure trove of rarely seen archival footage and scenes with his Black and queer predecessors and contemporaries, like Sister Rosetta Tharpe – the mother of rock ’n’ roll, who gave a 14-year-old Penniman his first big break.
This rock ‘n’ roll legend’s complex journey as a conflicted revolutionary careening between being a religious zealot, unapologetically embracing his sexuality, coupled with navigating the extreme tensions of race reminds us that outsiders and outcasts can possess superpowers. If given the chance, they can create new worlds for us all to dance in.
Little Richard Penniman kicked down the doors for artists like Prince, David Bowie, Annie Lenox, Elton John, Billy Porter and even The Beatles to take their creative artistry to new levels. In one of the most heartfelt moments, while receiving a Merit Award at the American Music Awards honoring his legacy, one realizes the armor he’s encased himself with to dull the pain of not being recognized by his peers. Finally, he was being recognized at the true “architect of rock ‘n’ roll.”
Also noted, are how even Elvis called him the “The King” and how uncomfortable he made a now famous Mick Jagger nervous when once again calling attention to the truth the enitre industry knew and treated like a dirty little secret. Not to mention his influence on the trans and drag community. Oh yeah…and he was married once too!
Ultimately, audiences will sing along, tap their toes and delight in the memory of an entertainer who brought the masses immense joy while a whole new generation rediscovers a cosmic genius and bright light in American music.