Prayers for Richard
And there appeared
a great wonder in heaven
Little Richard has always been attuned to signs. At the height of his fame, on tour in Australia in October 1957, he saw a big ball of fire in the sky above the stadium. This was his second vision of fire. On the flight over, the glow of the engines appeared to him as flames and he pictured yellow-haired angels holding the plane aloft....MORE
The message, to Little Richard, was clear. He had to leave show business, quit singing the devil’s music, and get right with God.
“It looked as though the big ball of fire came directly over the stadium about two or three hundred feet above our heads,” he later told his biographer, Charles White. “It shook my mind. . . . I got up from the piano and said, ‘This is it. I am through. I am leaving show business to go back to God.’” And he did. He ditched the tour—leaving half a million dollars’ worth of canceled bookings, with multiple lawsuits to come. The change in plans kept him off a scheduled flight that crashed into the Pacific Ocean. The Lord wasn’t messing around.
Little Richard quit rock & roll altogether, at least for a time. He enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, to study to become a minister. All to the despair of the money men at Specialty Records—owner Art Rupe said that Little Richard was so popular they could have recorded him blowing his nose and made a hit.
What Little Richard saw overhead in Australia was in fact Sputnik, the Russian satellite traveling 18,000 miles an hour in the night sky.
Picture Little Richard, far from home, drenched in sweat. “He made an impressive entry,” according to Australian newspaper the Age, “wearing a brilliant red coat over a canary yellow suit, topped off with a bright green turban. But he discarded all the trimmings until he was left with only pyjama pants and the turban.” Pounding on the piano and then dancing on top of it and then throwing his bedazzled clothes into the crowd. And Richard saw the bright yellow burn of the satellite, or probably the rocket casing trailing it, perhaps streaking past the vibrant Alpha and Beta Centauri stars of the Southern Cross.
A star who mistook a satellite for a ball of fire. And we might pause here to note that whether or not it was a message from God, something like a miracle was afoot. A freaky-deaky bisexual black man who grew up poor in the Jim Crow South in Macon, Georgia, singing a wild, sexy nonsense song that changed music forever, everywhere—even in a packed stadium halfway around the world, as shrieking Australian teenagers nearly started a riot, scuffling to touch the man’s discarded clothes. Fire in the heavens and fire on earth.
There are miracles everywhere if you know where to look. And know how to listen: A wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom!
Good intro, eh?