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Music

Little Richard on why Elvis Presley was more popular

When trying to locate the source of rock ‘n’ roll, one would have to trace guitar-based music to some forgotten names in the early 20th century. The truth is, rock ‘n’ roll was spawned from a convergent evolution as early blues styles met country and folk music. This convergence can be accurately placed in the 1950s when the sound was popularised. 

As we scour the ’50s for the quintessential rock ‘n’ roll godfather, or the “architect”, if you will, we come across the usual suspects like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, B.B. King, Muddy Waters and so on. 

Crowned ‘The King’ by the late 1950s, many people were willing to accept that Presley was perhaps this all-important forefather of rock ‘n’ roll. However, energetic ‘Tutti Frutti’ singer Little Richard was never too shy to throw his humble net over the discussion. 

“When I first came along, I never heard of any rock ‘n’ roll,” Richard told Rolling Stone in 1990. “I only heard Elmore James, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Ruth Brown, and Roy Brown. Blues. Fats Domino at the time was playing nothing but low-down blues. When I started singing [rock ‘n’ roll], I sang it a long time before I presented it to the public, because I was afraid they wouldn’t like it. I had never heard nobody do it, and I was scared.”

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“I really feel from the bottom of my heart that I am the inventor [of rock ‘n’ roll]. If there was somebody else, I didn’t know then, didn’t hear them, haven’t heard them. Not even to this day. So I say I’m the architect,” he asserted candidly. 

Richard had also been quoted many years prior, emphasising his right to claim the rock ‘n’ roll throne: “I am the innovator. I am the originator. I am the emancipator. I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Despite his unbridled confidence in assuming the throne, Richard had only positive things to say about his lauded peer, Elvis Presley. Though, he asserted that “rock ‘n’ roll music is Black music,” and that racial bias could have made reaching the top easier for Elvis.

“I think the door opened wider [for Elvis], but the door may have already been opened by ‘Tutti Frutti,’” Richard told Rolling Stone. “I think that Elvis was more acceptable being white back in that period. I believe that if Elvis had been Black, he wouldn’t have been as big as he was. If I was white, do you know how huge I’d be? If I was white, I’d be able to sit on top of the White House! A lot of things they would do for Elvis and Pat Boone, they wouldn’t do for me.”

Richard added: “We was one of the main doors that came through. Chuck Berry was another door himself. And we’re not saying that Elvis wasn’t a main door. I would never say that. Because Elvis started white people to really sing rock ‘n’ roll”.

After Presley’s death, Richard grieved the loss of a good friend and an inspiring musician. “I love him. That’s my buddy, my baby. I love him. We are very good friends, and it was a very great loss to the music world,” he said in an interview following Elvis’ death in 1977. “Elvis is one of the greatest performers who ever lived in this world.”

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