Little Richard proclaimed his love for Macon anew Tuesday during a celebration of his 85th birthday, which coincided with his childhood home becoming a resource center.
The “architect of rock ‘n’ roll” thanked those who had helped pave the way for a groundbreaking career spanning decades, with millions of records sold and numerous awards. As the dedication ceremony was almost finished, Stanley Stewart put in a call to Little Richard, his cousin, who was unable to attend the event.
But Little Richard’s sense of humor was still evident. The first question he asked was how many people were on hand.
“Every program I’m on I say, ‘Little Richard is from Macon, Georgia,’ ” he said. “I love Macon. I love it better than anywhere I’ve ever been in my life.”
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He added later, “I thank y’all for loving me through the years, and I still love y’all. Thank you for everything you’ve ever done for my old house. That old house has a lot of Tutti Frutti, aw rutti,” drawing from lyrics from one of his most well-known songs.
That old home now has a new lease on life after being renovated and relocated as part of the Pleasant Hill mitigation work for the $500-million-plus Interstate 75 and I-16 expansion. The tiny, yellow cottage where Little Richard was raised was moved from the corner of Fifth Avenue and Middle Street to 416 Craft St.
The next step is to determine how best to use the resource center for the neighborhood, Macon-Bibb County Mayor Robert Reichert said.
Reichert declared Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2017, as Little Richard Day and presented a proclamation that will be displayed in the resource center.
“Whereas Little Richard shattered racial divides by bringing people together through his music and soul, selling 32 million records by 1968, and is is known for hits like ‘Tutti Frutti,’ ‘Long Tall Sally’ and ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly,’” the mayor read.
The Georgia Department of Transportation is spending about $10 million on the mitigation effort being led by the Macon-Bibb Community Enhancement Authority. The predominantly black neighborhood was cut into half during initial intestate construction in the 1960s.
But Peter Givens, president of the Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Improvement Group, has said residents were adamant that they would not receive such treatment this time around. He said Tuesday that he was pleased to see Richard’s childhood home saved, and that other efforts had been made to improve the neighborhood.
Seven homes have been relocated and are being rehabbed as part of the mitigation. Other improvements include new sidewalks, lighting and landscaping.
Across the street from the resource center is the future site of the Jefferson Long Park, named after the nation’s second black congressman.
“This was not one person’s idea,” Givens said. “It was the community’s idea, and we want to make sure that generations from now, young kids and adults, will understand what the people of Pleasant Hill went through to make Pleasant Hill what it is.”
Childhood memories to first break
Little Richard’s childhood home was where the future star first honed his skills as a piano player.
In a 1987 Macon Telegraph & News article, he credited a piano player and entertainer by the name of Esquerta with teaching him how to play the instrument at his residence.
And his childhood house wasn’t too far from where one of Little Richard’s first breaks in the industry came. In 1953, a promoter of a Fifth Street nightclub helped him form the Tempo Troopers in Nashville, Tennessee. The group would perform throughout the South before Richard came back to Macon and created the group the Upsetters.
Richard would, of course, go on to travel the world, becoming an icon in music and beyond. But for his cousin, Stewart, Richard realizes there is more to life than performing on stage.
“To talk to Richard now is to talk to a man who knows that encores are numbered, that the curtain will come down and it will open on a new stage,” Stewart said. “One in which he’ll be asked how well did he serve his fellow human, and for that we can say he did that and more.”