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"Little Richard"

Pat Boone's "Tutti Frutti" was vanilla, but Little Richard's was the real thing.

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There is an extended passage in Little Richard (Sunday, February 20; 9 to 11 p.m.; NBC) that might even be profound. Director Robert Townsend crosscuts between Little Richard (Leon) and Pat Boone (Gregory Gast). They are both singing "Long Tall Sally." Even if it wasn't apparent in the fifties, it's obvious in 20/20 retrospect that if Pat Boone had never been born, the sixties would have been forced to invent him to explain why they happened. So Pat was covering a song that couldn't be played on white radio when it was sung by the man who wrote it, as he had also covered "Tutti Frutti." But cover with what? Cotton candy? Bubble gum? Silly Putty? Talk about deracination!

Little Richard is mostly Leon's energetic and remarkable impersonation of the rock legend from Macon, Georgia -- whose father (Carl Lumbly) was a hard man to please, until somebody shot him; whose mother (Jenifer Lewis) was nevertheless supportive, even if his lyrics shocked her; whose minister (Garrett Morris) thought that "Good Golly Miss Molly" was the music of the devil; and whose girlfriend (Tamala Jones) wanted to get married. Except for Sputnik in the night sky over Sydney, Australia, we might as well be watching any old installment of "Storytellers" on VH1.


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