Legendary Little Richard Part Six
In 1984, Little Richard filed a $112 million lawsuit against Specialty Records; Art Rupe and his publishing company, Venice Music; and ATV Music for not paying royalties to him after he left the label in 1959. The suit was settled out of court in 1986. According to some reports, Michael Jackson gave Little Richard monetary compensation from his work when he co-owned (with Sony-ATV) songs by the Beatles and Little Richard. In 1985, Charles White released Little Richard’s authorized biography, Quasar of Rock: The Life and Times of Little Richard, which returned Little Richard to the spotlight. Little Richard returned to show business in what Rolling Stone would refer to as a “formidable comeback” following the book’s release.
Little Richard, interviewed during the 60th Annual Academy Awards, 1988
Reconciling his roles as evangelist and rock and roll musician for the first time, Little Richard stated that the genre could be used for good or evil. After accepting a role in the film Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Little Richard and Billy Preston penned the faith-based rock and roll song “Great Gosh A’Mighty” for its soundtrack. Little Richard won critical acclaim for his film role, and the song found success on the American and British charts. The hit led to the release of the album Lifetime Friend (1986) on Warner Bros. Records, with songs deemed “messages in rhythm”, including a gospel rap track. In addition to a version of “Great Gosh A’Mighty”, cut in England, the album featured two singles that charted in the UK, “Somebody’s Comin'” and “Operator”. Little Richard spent much of the rest of the decade as a guest on TV shows and appearing in films, winning new fans with what was referred to as his “unique comedic timing”. In 1989, Little Richard provided rhythmic preaching and background vocals on the extended live version of the U2–B.B. King hit “When Love Comes to Town”. That same year, Little Richard returned to singing his classic hits following a performance of “Lucille” at an AIDS benefit concert.
In 1990, Little Richard contributed a spoken-word rap on Living Colour’s hit song, “Elvis Is Dead”, from their album Time’s Up. The following year, he was one of the featured performers on the hit single and video “Voices That Care” that was produced to help boost the morale of U.S. troops involved in Operation Desert Storm. He also recorded a rock and roll version of “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” that year that led to a deal with Disney Records, resulting in the release of a hit 1992 children’s album, Shake It All About. Throughout the 1990s, Little Richard performed around the world and appeared on TV, film, and tracks with other artists, including Jon Bon Jovi, Elton John and Solomon Burke. In 1992, yet another album of remakes was released, this time with Richard and Japanese guitar hero, Takanaka. Included in the band were swamp guitarist Travis Wammack and his drummer son Monkee, members of Richard’s then current touring band.
Later years (2000–present)
In 2000, Little Richard’s life was dramatized for the biographical film Little Richard, which focused on his early years, including his heyday, his religious conversion and his return to secular music in the early 1960s. Little Richard was played by Leon, who earned an NAACP Image Award nomination for his performance in this role. In 2002, Little Richard contributed to the Johnny Cash tribute album, Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash. In 2006, Little Richard was featured in a popular advertisement for the GEICO brand. A 2005 recording of his duet vocals with Jerry Lee Lewis on a cover of the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There” was included on Lewis’s 2006 album, Last Man Standing. The same year, Little Richard was a guest judge on the TV series Celebrity Duets. Little Richard and Lewis performed alongside John Fogerty at the 2008 Grammy Awards in a tribute to the two artists considered to be cornerstones of rock and roll by the NARAS. That same year, Little Richard appeared on radio host Don Imus’ benefit album for sick children, The Imus Ranch Record. In June 2010, Little Richard recorded a gospel track for an upcoming tribute album to songwriting legend Dottie Rambo.
Towards the end of the first decade of the new millennium, Rolling Stone reported that Little Richard remained “one of the most recognized and quotable celebrities in the world.” Throughout the decade, he kept up a stringent touring schedule, performing primarily in the United States and Europe. However, sciatic nerve pain in his left leg and then replacement of the involved hip began affecting the frequency of his performances by 2010. Despite his health problems, Little Richard continued to receive critical acclaim for his performances. Rolling Stone reported that at a performance at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., in June 2012, Little Richard was “still full of fire, still a master showman, his voice still loaded with deep gospel and raunchy power.” Little Richard performed a full 90-minute show at the Pensacola Interstate Fair in Pensacola, Florida, in October 2012, at the age of 79, and headlined at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas during Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend in March 2013.
In 2014, actor Brandon Mychal Smith won critical acclaim for his portrayal of Little Richard in the James Brown biographical drama film Get on Up. Mick Jagger co-produced the motion picture. In June 2015, Little Richard appeared before a paying audience, clad in sparkly boots and a brightly colored jacket at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville to receive the Rhapsody & Rhythm Award from and raise funds for the National Museum of African American Music. It was reported that he charmed the crowd by reminiscing about his early days working in Nashville nightclubs. In May 2016, the National Museum of African American Music issued a press release indicating that Little Richard was one of the key artists and music industry leaders that attended its 3rd annual My Music Matters Legends Luncheon in Nashville honoring Shirley Caesar, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with Rhapsody & Rhythm Awards.