The question of who invented rock and roll will be never be answered authoritatively, but one of the handful of names that belongs in any discussion of the topic is Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard. He has called himself “The Architect of Rock and Roll”—a title he has every right to claim by force of both his music, which played a critical role in moving early rock and roll toward its now-familiar sound, and his personality, which helped create our basic expectations of rock-and-roll performers and performances. The combined power of those forces was unleashed upon the world as a result of the events that took place on this day in 1955, when Little Richard walked into a New Orleans recording studio and gave birth to a record called “Tutti Frutti.”
As a child growing up in Macon, Georgia, Little Richard was exposed to great music by the likes of Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald, but it left him wanting something stronger. “I knew there was something that could be louder than that,” he later said, “but didn’t know where to find it. And I found out it was me.”
“Tutti frutti, good booty…” was the way the version went that Little Richard was accustomed to performing in his club act, and from there it got into lyrical territory that would demand censorship even by today’s standards. It was during a lunch break from his first-ever recording session that Little Richard went to the piano and banged that filthy tune out for producer Bumps Blackwell, who was extremely unhappy with the results of the session so far. As Blackwell would later tell it, “He hits that piano, dididididididididi…and starts to sing, ‘Awop-bop-a-Loo-Mop a-good Goddam…’ and I said ‘Wow! That’s what I want from you Richard. That’s a hit!'” But first, the song’s racy lyrics had to be reworked for there to be any chance of the song being deemed acceptable by the conservative American audience of the 1950s.
An aspiring local songwriter by the name of Dorothy La Bostrie was quickly summoned to the Dew Drop Inn to come up with new lyrics for the un-recordable original, and by the time they all returned from lunch, the “Tutti frutti, all rooty” with which we are now familiar was written down alongside lyrics about two gals named Sue and Daisy. In the last 15 minutes of that historic recording session on September 14, 1955, “Tutti Frutti” was recorded, and Little Richard’s claim to have been present at the birth of rock and roll was secured.