Little Richard, Andre Harrell and Betty Wright all made their marks in distinct and remarkable ways.
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Little Richard, Andre Harrell. Betty Wright.
Last weekend, the world lost these three legends in the music industry. The flamboyant, innovative “architect of rock ‘n’ roll’ died on Sunday of bone cancer at age 87.
His passing followed the May 6 passing of music executive Andre Harrell, who succumbed to heart failure at age 59. And soul singer Betty Wright, a Miami native, died of cancer on May 10 at age 66.
All had major impacts on R&B and the music industry as a whole.
Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard, was one of the founders of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950s and one of the most memorable performers in music history.
“The Innovator, The Originator, and The Architect of Rock and Roll,’’ as he was called, died of bone cancer on May 9 in Tullahoma, Tenn.
Born in 1932 in Macon, Georgia, he was the third of 12 children of Leva Mae and Charles Penniman. His father was a church deacon and his mother a member of Macon’s New Hope Baptist Church.
“Tutti Frutti” (1955), one of Little Richard’s signature songs, became a hit reaching the No. 2 on the Billboard chart. “Long Tall Sally” (1956), made it to No. 1 on Billboard. “Tutti Frutti” was added to the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2010 and cited for its “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music.’’
“Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly” were listed on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.
His music was covered by several artists thereafter and his influence included The Beatles, who opened for Little Richard as he toured Europe in 1962.
Little Richard also advised Paul McCartney on his distinctive vocalizations. He influenced Otis Redding, James Brown, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, John Lennon and Cliff Richard and those influences frequently showed up in their music.
Redding started his professional career with Little Richard’s band, The Upsetters.
Hall of Famer
Little Richard received all the honors possible in music. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of its first group of legendary inductees in 1986. He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He also was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
In 2015, Richard received a Rhapsody & Rhythm Award from the National Museum of African American Music for his key role in the formation of popular music genres and helping to bring an end to the racial divide on the music charts.
On Thursday, May 7, innovative music executive Andre Harrell died at his home in West Hollywood.
His ex-wife, Wendy Credle, said the cause of death was heart failure, adding that he “had had heart problems for some time,’’ according to a New York Times report.
He was best known as the founder of Uptown Records where Sean “Diddy’’ Combs got his start. Harrell later would briefly head Motown Records. He built the careers of popular artists such as Mary J. Blige and Jodeci.
Harrell’s career start was at Def Jam Records under Russell Simmons, a co-founder.
Born in New York, Harrell came up as a rapper in the early 1980s duo, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde. The duo’s only album, with a cover photo showing Harrell and partner Alonzo Brown wearing the kind of tailored suit that Harrell would be seen in throughout his life, was titled “The Champagne of Rap.”
Harrell went on to work for Simmons at Simmons’ management company and at Def Jam before starting Uptown in 1986.
Among the best
Propelled by the success of chart-topping hits from Heavy D and Al B. Sure, Harrell quickly joined the elite ranks of Black record executives. His contemporaries included L.A. Reid and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds.
Later in the 1990s, Harrell briefly led Motown; more recently he rejoined his old protege as an executive at Combs’ Revolt TV.
Last year BET announced it was creating a miniseries about Uptown, and network said it planned to move ahead with the miniseries when film and TV production resume amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Harrell is survived by his son, Gianni Credle-Harrell; his father and a brother.
Betty Wright, the singer-song writer best known for her souldisco classic “Clean Up Woman,” died Sunday at her home in Miami.
Born Bessie Regina Norris on Dec. 21, 1953, Wright began performing with her the Echoes of Joy, her family’s gospel group, in her hometown of Miami. She began singing professionally at age 2, the youngest of seven. In 1956, when she was 3, the group released an album.
Album at 14
She started singing in talent shows in Miami and signed with Deep City Records at age 12. By age 14, she had released her first studio album, “My First Time Around.’’ She also had a Top 40 hit with “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do.”
Her biggest hit, “Clean Up Woman,” came when she was 17. It was released in 1971 and reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold more than a million copies.
Her other R&B classics are “Let Me Be Your Lovemaker,” “Shoorah Shoorah” and “Tonight Is the Night.” In 1974, she won a Grammy for “Where Is the Love?”
She launched an independent label in the 1980s. In 1988, she released the popular “No Pain (No Gain)’’ “Mother Wit,” released later, went gold. It marked the first time an African American woman singer had done that on her own record label.
Inspired Blige, Stone
Wright was an inspiration to many contemporary singers including Mary J. Blige, who sampled “Clean Up Woman” for the remix of her hit “Real Love,” and British singer Joss Stone, who performed with Wright on the song “The Art of Love and War.”
Wright also co-produced Stone’s debut, “The Soul Sessions.’’ In 2005, Wright was nominated for best pop album at the Grammys for co-producing Stone’s “Mind Body & Soul” album.
In 2007, she was back on the charts with “Baby,” a duet with soul singer Angie Stone.
Wright was the mother of five children. Her 21-year-old son, Patrick, was fatally shot in 2005.
Reports by Lauren Victoria Burke, NNPA Newswire contributor along with Sonaiya Kelley, Daniel Hernandez and Mikael Wood of the Los Angeles Times, were used in this story.