By Jim “Granddad” Nunnelly
Special To THE CALL
Many folks are still talking openly about the Coronavirus pandemic. As an arm-chair historian, I’m all right with that. But, as always, I try to capture history, from the viewpoint of everyday, Kansas City people. Thus, I will quickly run through some observations that relate to the ‘Rona thing. However, I can’t wait to share with you what we Monday Niters and fellow Kansas Citians remember about Richard Penniman, better known to us, as just “Little Richard”. Really though, I would be remiss if I didn’t pay tribute to this giant, little way-maker, especially for standing up for other black singers and disciples of Rock and Roll music. Let’s start off with some brief updates, dealing with the never-seen-before pandemic.
First off, it’s been well over 40 days since we have been quarantined, or locked down. Yes, some things are opening up, slowly. One can look at the gas prices, slip upward, after being “dirt cheap” for a few weeks. And the schools are still closed, mentally messing up our children. And God bless all the parents that sent their children away to college, only to have the colleges close down, just like that. And it’s a shame to see funeral services be reduced to only a few people, being allowed to pay their final respects. And now that I am in my late seventies, I never thought I would ever witness churches being closed, all week including Sunday. And along with no toilet paper, there are no sports events, nowhere. Where is this thing going? I certainly don’t know but no one else seems to know either.
In fact, they just instruct us to “stay at home, wear a mask and wash our hands’’. But, that’s a good thing to see our people comply with these life-protecting guidelines. However, I’m a little worried about our mental health, during these harsh times. Staying safe also includes staying mentally healthy, too. Dr. Susan Wilson, a local clinical psychologist, reminds us that thing coronavirus thing can put you “in a funk” and make you feel nervous and uneasy, too. But, enough of that, let’s talk about an unsung legend in music history, Little Richard. Although it’s been all over television news, let’s ask Kansas Citians what they will remember most about this “little, piana- playing, long-haired giant”.
First I asked Sie Sallis, a former postal union representative and a regular contributor to our weekly, roundtable discussions. He saw Little Richard in person, in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1956. It was at an all-black club there, near Fisk University and Meharry Medical College. And Dr. John Martin added that he used to see Little Richard, regularly, in an underground club, in East St. Louis, Illinois, back in the 60s. Of course, John was a teenager, then who often crossed the Mississippi river, to dance at Little Richard’s club, there. John’s hometown is St. Louis, Missouri.
But, Little Richard appeared here in Kansas City, a few times, as well. So, let’s hear from a couple of people who knew and actually saw him, here in person. After that, we’ll say a few words about Little Richard’s real contributions to our black history. Though vague in specifics, Joyce Bess and Linda Morales saw him perform, downtown at the Municipal Auditorium, back in the late fifties. But, Raymond Vaughn, Felicia Safir, Ron Lindsay and Barbara Etier know that he also performed at Arrowhead Stadium, in June, 2000. He performed for Kansas City’s 150th Year Anniversary there. Felicia Safir added “Little Richard tore it up”. And some like Terry Palmer saw him in person, in nearby Columbia, Missouri. Of course, he sang his well-known versions of “Long Tall Sally” and “Tutti Fruiti” , no matter where he was. However, Little Richard contributed a lot more than just inventing “rock and roll” songs.