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Rocking the ClosetHow Little Richard, Johnnie Ray, Liberace, and Johnny Mathis Queered Pop Music$
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Vincent L. Stephens

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780252042805

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5622/illinois/9780252042805.001.0001

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Spectacular Vacillations

Spectacular Vacillations

Little Richard Charms and Disarms America

(p.79) Chapter Three Spectacular Vacillations
Rocking the Closet

Vincent L. Stephens

University of Illinois Press

This chapter defines Little Richard as a strategic performer who employed multiple queering tools during different phases of his career to adapt to social expectations. His initial persona was resonant enough to adhere to expectations of “race men” performers of the 1950s, yet he stood apart. As he gained fame, he emphasized spectacle to avoid appearing sexually threatening to whites. After his initial success, he briefly retreated to religion and marriage. He followed this phase with an even more flamboyance from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s, becoming a popular draw and TV personality. By the early 1980s, he disavowed his past and embraced religiosity. Queer signifiers endured in his persona throughout these phases; he gradually integrated spirituality with queerness in the mid-1980s onward.

Keywords:   Little Richard, queering tools, race men, spectacle, flamboyance, religion, queerness

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