Young Richard Penniman packed a lot into his adolescent years. The kid from Macon, Georgia that we came to know as Little Richard sang in church, ran off with a medicine show, sang in a minstrel troupe and was adopted by a white family. Then, on 16 October 1951, in Atlanta, he made his first-ever recordings.
The opportunity arose when the singer Billy Wright introduced Little Richard to Zenas Sears, a DJ who championed R&B music on the state-owned radio station WGST. Wright wore heavy make-up and gelled his hair, hugely influencing the style of a young performer who was still some weeks away from his 19th birthday.
The session took place at the station, where Richard was backed by Wright’s backing band. Charles White’s book The Life and Times of Little Richard says that the young hopeful was clearly trying to imitate his idol Wright, to little success, and he is barely recognisable as the later, confident frontman we know so well.
Songs from that and a later session would be released early in 1952, and the eight tracks Richard recorded for RCA Camden included the blues ballad ‘Every Hour,’ which was promoted at retail level by Sears and had local success in Atlanta and his home town of Macon. The tracks later appeared on albums when he had made his name in the first flush of rock ‘n’ roll.
But that first whiff of success with ‘Every Hour,’ however local, was intoxicating for Richard — and his family, it seems. In White’s book, he recalls: “The record began to get a good amount of local airplay, and people came to know me. My daddy was proud of me for the first time in his life. He made sure that ‘Every Hour’ was played on the jukebox in his club, the Tip In Inn, on Woodliff Street, as often as possible. He often put the nickels in himself.”
The Very Best of Little Richard can be bought here.
Follow the 50s playlist for more great 1950s pop and rock ‘n’ roll classics.