Little Richard made an indelible impression on the rock and roll landscape. His unforgettable songs, incandescent personality, and incredible live performances influenced a legion of artists, from Mick Jagger to Prince. The force of his indelible impact on music, culture, and fashion continues to be felt to this day. So it’s fully appropriate that director Lisa Cortés starts off the new documentary, Little Richard: I Am Everything, with a recreation of the big bang, likening that event to Little Richard exploding onto the music scene.
The film (airing on Amazon, Apple TV, YouTube and more) is a fascinating look at his life, focusing not only on his incredible body of work as an artist, but his personal struggles, his status as a queer icon, and his path to becoming an inspiration for others to liberate their true selves.
Little Richard: I Am Everything thoughtfully illustrates the inherent contradictions in Richard’s personality, as he struggled to balance his spiritual and sensual sides. Growing up as a gay man in Macon, Georgia, Richard knew he was different. He was influenced not only by the religious music that he heard in church but the songs performed by the blues musicians that played in his neighborhood. Richard also idolized artists as diverse as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and drag performer Lady Java, who appears in the film to discuss her friendship with him. Richard, who was thrown out of his childhood home for being gay, later returned there for a time after he became a successful artist. The contrast between the two sides of Little Richard, one being his flamboyant stage persona, and the other more introspective and socially conscious, is explored throughout the film.
The film is also an in-depth examination of the power and impact of Little Richard’s genre-defying (and genre-defining) music, featuring interviews with artists like Mick Jagger, Tom Jones, Billy Porter, writer-director John Waters, and sociologist Zandria Robinson.
There are clips of Richard’s memorable performances, live appearances, and interviews, including that moment when he presented the Best New Artist Grammy in 1988, where he declared himself the winner, explaining how he was the architect and originator of rock and roll, and that he’d never been given any awards. It was a theme he returned to throughout his life, feeling he’d never quite received his due as an “icon, originator and emancipator,” though that would thankfully change later in his life, as it did when he received the Merit Award at the American Music Awards in 1997.
Little Richard: I Am Everything is a thorough and well-balanced look at the life and career of a trailblazing artist who was one of the most innovative performers in music history. The film is an insightful and respectful look at Richard’s personal and professional life and details his highs and lows, as well as the dichotomies inherent in the life of this trailblazing rock and roll icon.
This extraordinary documentary will remind viewers about the classic music that Little Richard created, and open their eyes to another side of him that may be less familiar to the casual fan. It’s a truly engrossing and illuminating film that could almost be called “The Soul of Little Richard.”
Photo: Little Richard (Public Domain)
PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…