Rock history: the musicians being stolen from have often not only been black, but queer as well

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.


It was during a 1966 concert in Paris when Little Richard, drenched in sweat, told a mostly white audience, “I’m ready, ready, ready teddy, I’m ready, ready, ready teddy!” He took off his soaked shirt and the men and women pleaded for it as he swung it over his head like a helicopter, carefully considering who he would bless with his dripping D.N.A.

For those in the audience, it must have been fantastical to see, and a deeply erotic thing to witness. To think, in 1966, a black queer man — over the course of his life he would identify himself as gay, bisexual and “omnisexual” — could be a sex god. He was a symbol of brazen sensuality, three years before Jimi Hendrix would use his tongue and guitar to catapult a nation beyond their prudish sensibilities at Woodstock.

Little Richard, who died Saturday, showed us what sexuality, queerness and passion looked like onstage. When he first rose to prominence in the 1950s, it was more common for popular performers such as Frank Sinatra or Ray Charles to don a suit and tie. Even in the 1960s, he was an anomaly — James Brown may have matched him onstage in exuding sexual energy, but the Godfather of Soul’s sartorial choices remained primarily urbane until the 1970s.

Little Richard’s style was a reckoning between the sweaty southern Baptist church revivals he witnessed as a child, and the raw sensuality that characterized jazz and blues. He bridged and made sense of the flamboyance and theatricality of the black church, and fed it to millions of hungry consumers. And he did it all while embracing a femininity that can be directly traced to his queerness.

We often think about the history of rock ‘n’ roll through the lens of white artists and record executives profiting from black culture, but it’s rare we recognize that the musicians being stolen from have often not only been black, but queer as well. Artists like Little Richard are often seen as separate from their sexuality and gender performance, even though those are the very things that informed their innovation.