The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll
“A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop, a-lop-bam-boom!”And so rock and roll was born. And so American culture changed forever. So says David Kirby in Little Richard: The Birth of Rock ‘n’ Roll (Continuum, 2009). “Tutti Frutti,” Little Richard’s first hit, recorded by Robert “Bumps” Blackwell at Cosimo Matassa’s J & M Studio in New Orleans in September 1955, co-written and sanitized by Dorothy LaBostrie after Richard’s original lyric (“A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop, a-good-goddamn/Tutti Frutti, good booty”) was deemed a bit too racy for a recorded release (it was, after all, a song about anal copulation, writes the author), is the lynchpin around which Kirby builds a biography of one of the greats of twentieth-century American music and art. His story moves from Richard’s childhood in Macon, Georgia, to his place among the greats of the old, weird America, to his legacy as the Architect of Rock. It’s Kirby’s contention, really, that Richard’s story is America’s story. It’s filled with entrepreneurs, con artists, straights, gays, gospels, devils, showmen and, best of all, outrageous and booty shakin’ music, and Little Richard Penniman, in a more than fifty-year career, embraces all of these and more with abandon.
David Kirby is the Robert O. Lawton Distinguished Professor of English at Florida State University. He has written on music for the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, and others.