Little Richard, the Founding Father of Rock n’ Roll, was known for his flamboyant fashions—colors, patterns, fabrics, and textures. He was known for his curls, waves, conks, and wigs and always gave what we would call a “full face”—foundation, powder, brows done, and eyes lined. He always gave vivid performances with the theatrics to match and always his signature wailing falsetto.
He was truly carving out space in a time that so few had done and even fewer publicly.
Today, we are celebrating the passing of Little Richard. Many are talking about "giving folks their flowers" and accolades while they are alive. We’re celebrating his edge, his grit, his personality, his nonconformity. He was an actual trailblazer, doing things innovatively and apologetically in a time where society prescribed very narrow lanes for everyone, but particular nonconforming Black people.
Professionally, much of my work is centered around addressing stigma. Even in 2020, we know we are constantly tackling undereducation, miseducation, and outright bias. Personally, most people who know me know I’ve have evolved and own the space of, let’s just say, IDGAF (Google it, if you need). As a creative, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and just as a grown man who responsibly does what he wants, I express myself as such. You could see me in a blazer and jeans today and a sequin short and strappy sandal tomorrow (literally). I’m not aiming to be anything, but me and to show up and move through life accordingly.
And all, while all of my choices are very authentic to me, as I scrolled through pictures of Little Richard over the decades, I was forced to ask “what spaces today are we consistently creating for our nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and trans sisters and trans brothers?”
As I watched a clip of an interview with Little Richard, he was wearing a salmon, monochromatic look with a gauzy poncho trimmed in silver sequins, his bouffant up behind a glittery headband, and his signature “full face.”
The interviewer asked him, “Do you always dress like that?”
“Every day!” Richard exclaimed, not missing a beat. “I even go to the grocery store like this!” The interview goes on as he shares adages of his personal unapologeticness.
Finishing the video, my mind continued. We celebrate Little Richard as a dynamic performer, musician, and artist, and for being larger than life. But the question is what celebration exists consistently for those many nonbinary, gender nonconforming, and transwomen and transmen who are not performers? Do Black nonconforming people get a pass only for your entertainment?
As I celebrated the clip of Little Richard in his pastel peach, thinking about when and where could I recreate his look. I took a moment of silence to honor him—honoring his boldness and courage to face a cruel world unrepentantly to, not only be himself, but pioneer the world for generations to follow. Even me in my patterned shirts, bold pants, and statement jewelry.
Beyond social media and night club shows, we all have a consistent responsibility to check our roles in the lives of our community. If your showing up and celebration only exists around your self-serving desires, then that’s no celebration at all. Ask yourself, “how am I continuing legacy?”
Rest on, King Little Richard, your legacy lives on.