Alex Blaze

Queer music Friday - Little Richard

Filed By Alex Blaze | August 29, 2008 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: gender, Little Richard, queer music

I love me some Little Richard. I remember vividly from when I was very, very young my mother pointing him out when he was on TV as a "homosexual." She did an impersonation of either him or a stereotypical gay man (I can't really remember which). That's one of my first recollections of queer issues, and it happened because he thrust gender-bending into America's living rooms.

What gets lost in just analyzing his gender is that Little Richard could sing and that he had soul. Here's a live performance of "Good Golly Miss Molly" from 1963:

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An interesting interview with him from 1994 on masculinity and femininity in performance, after the jump.

PG: I want to refer to your biography again, in which you said that some people called you "freak," "sissy," and "faggot" for the way you dressed and acted onstage.

LR: I never heard nobody in my audience call me any kind of names. I've heard people in the audience screaming, "We love you," or "Long live Little Richard." I've heard people call me the Quasar, the Architect, the Originator, but I never heard nobody in the audience saying such a thing. I don't carry myself that way, never have. I'm very much a gentleman in what I do. And I don't get down on nobody else for doing whatever else they do. To each his own. I try to be a guide for people, to make their darkness bright and to make the pathway light, and never to condemn or control or criticize. I've tried to let my life be an example. I'll be sixty-two this year, and I've lived too long, come too far, to be considered a misfit.

PG: In terms of the makeup, the long hair, and the flamboyant clothes, you were very much a pioneer of an androgynous look.

LR: I don't understand what that word means.

PG: Androgynous means having both masculine and feminine characteristics.

LR: I only wore makeup when I went onstage. I didn't get up in the morning and say, I'm going to put on a pound of eyebrow pencil. But when I went on the stage to do a show, I would put on makeup because I felt that it enhanced my act; it drew attention to what I was doing. I tried to look presentable for a show, but not for sexual attraction. It was strictly for show business. When I got through with my act, I was through with it. I always knew I was a man, always felt that I was a man, always wanted to be a man. I thank God for making me a man. If I had my life to live over, I would want to be a man. And I think a woman should find it a joy to be female because God made both male and female.

PG: But do you think men have a feminine side?

LR: Well, I don't know much about that.

PG: I don't mean wanting to put on drag. I mean, do you think that men possess certain qualities--like sensitivity--that are more feminine than masculine?

LR: I don't think that you have to be effeminate to be sensitive. I don't think a woman has to act like a man to show that she has strength. I think that a man should be caring. I think that God made him to be caring and to be thoughtful. I think God made a woman to be strong and not to be trampled under the feet of men. I've always felt this way because my mother was a very strong woman, without a husband. My dad died at an early age.

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Over the years, I've heard him change his story many times. I've heard him deny he was ever gay; that he used to be gay, but it was a sin and he repented; that he had been cured of homosexuality; and that he is gay.

He's never appeared publicly without makeup, at least in the last 40 years. So his explanation that it's for his show seems specious. I was under the impression from a biopic that I saw about him, that makeup was a personal choice as opposed to a showbiz affectation. Of course those things sometimes take liberties with the facts.

OTOH, his credibility is rather thin.

mortallywounded | August 30, 2008 4:54 PM

you want to know who the guy had sex with, is that right? are you out of your mind?!!

since you sound very knowledgeable about Little Richard's public persona, and presumably you watched the video, too, didn't you notice he had sex with you, me, everybody in the audience, on the stage, and anybody else who watches this performance?

to spell it out: he is a performer, and a consummate one, at that! and it's clear Little Richard puts his body and soul into everything he does. good golly, miss f’n molly!

but it's unbelievable to me that you’d still want to stick your nose into his pants, question what is going on there, and then write about.

i never thought i’d use this expression, or even a variation on it, but please "get a ________!" (i'll leave the rest to your imagination.)

This has to be one of my favorite comments on this site ever.

mortallywounded | August 30, 2008 8:26 PM

Well, let's not get carried away here. After all, we haven't even begun to explore a whole host of other amazing, peerless performers who struggled, truly excelling in the arts under conditions of horrendous prejudice, and offered up their hearts and souls – not to mention buckets of sweat and who knows what other parts of their anatomy.