Charles Connor, Pioneering Drummer for Little Richard and James Brown, Dead at 86

Connor also performed with James Brown and Sam Cooke.

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Charles Connor
Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Charles Connor, who was a drummer for Little Richard and other music greats including James Brown and Sam Cooke, has died aged 86. Charles Connor’s daughter, Queenie Connor Sonnefeld, said her father died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday while under hospice care at his home in Glendale, California. She said he had been diagnosed with normal pressure hydrocephalus, a brain disorder that causes fluid buildup.

Connor Sonnefeld called the drummer a “great father” who was always positive and a person who never gave up on his dreams.

“He was one of those drummers that was a bricklayer of creating that rock’n’roll genre,” she said. “He played behind so many legendary musicians in the 1950s. He was a loving grandfather and was very proud of his family and took a lot of pride in his contributions to rock’n’roll.”

After Connor turned 18, he joined Little Richard’s original road band, the Upsetters. The band appeared in several popular feature films including The Girl Can’t Help It with Jayne Mansfield, along with Don’t Knock the Rock, and Mister Rock and Roll.

“Little Richard was an ingenious promoter,” Connor said on his official website bio. “To draw attention to his band and ensure they could perform on stage, he had to show bigots that the band wouldn’t threaten their way of life. Little Richard promoted the band and avoided racial prejudice by insisting the musicians wear thick pancake makeup and act effeminate!”

“I was 20 when Little Richard’s band toured the United States in 1955,” he continued. “We played all the major theaters, including such prestigious venues as the Turner Arena and Howard Theater in Washington, D.C.; the Royal Theater in Baltimore, Maryland; the Apollo Theater in Harlem and the Paramount Theater with Alan Freed in Brooklyn. In New York, the white teenagers saw blacks having so much fun that they would dance in the aisles with them! Man, those were heady times.”

During his career, Connor toured with numerous musical greats including James Brown, Jackie Wilson, and the original Coasters. He also received a certificate of special recognition from the US congresswoman Maxine Waters in 1994.

Connor released the motivational book Don’t Give Up Your Dreams: You Can Be a Winner Too! in 2008. He was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame two years later.

In 2013, Connor released an EP, Still Knockin’. At the time of his death he was working on an autobiographical documentary.

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