On 12 October 1957, Little Richard made a momentous announcement. After 18 months of spectacular success as one of the leading lights of the rock ‘n’ roll explosion, he had something to tell his Australian audience in Sydney, Australia, during the fifth date of a two-week tour ‘Down Under’, he declared that he was renouncing rock ‘n’ roll and embracing God.
Richard was said to have told the crowd: “If you want to live with the Lord, you can’t rock ‘n’ roll too. God doesn’t like it.“ He revealed that he had dreamed about his own damnation, after praying to God when one of the engines on a plane in which he was flying caught fire. History records that the wild rock ‘n’ roller threw four diamond rings (valued at $8000) into Sydney’s Hunter River.
As Richard returned to the US the next day, his label, Specialty, made every effort to keep his conversion quiet, and arranged a final, eight-song recording session before he entered theological college. He did that in Huntsville, Alabama, but as he did so, his existing recordings ensured that his rock ‘n’ roll profile was, if anything, higher than ever.
Richard was climbing the US charts at the time of his shock announcement with ‘Keep A Knockin’,’ which climbed to No. 8 there and, after charting in the UK in November, No. 21 there. In the new year of 1958, Specialty released ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ from that final session and saw it race to No. 10 in the States and No. 8 in Britain.
The remainder of the 1950s brought such further hits with existing recordings as ‘Ooh! My Soul,’ ‘Baby Face’ and ‘Kansas City,’ and by the end of the decade, Richard’s singles sales were estimated at 18 million. He, meanwhile, was in the process of becoming The Rev. Little Richard, recording gospel songs in the early 1960s with Quincy Jones.
1962 brought his return to rock ‘n’ roll, a comeback tour and his first package dates across the UK, as well as the album ‘It’s Real.’ Richard played at the Star Club in Hamburg and heightened his friendship with the emerging Beatles by touring Europe with them. The Reverend Little Richard was back wearing his rock ‘n’ roll crown. Five years, to the day, after he renounced rock and roll, Richard was playing The Tower Ballroom, New Brighton, near Liverpool, and second on the bill was that aspiring young band, The Beatles.
The Very Best of Little Richard can be bought here.