There aren’t many people who can make Cee Lo Green appear understated.
But Little Richard is one of them.
On Sunday night at the W Atlanta Downtown, Green and the flamboyant, crazily charming R&B-rock-soul pianist sat for a chat about music, performing, God and Georgia at the debut of the Legacy Lounge, a “conversation with” event presented by The Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter.
Among those in the intimate crowd of about 150 were some of Green’s family, including his sister, Shedonna, as well as other familiar Atlanta names (Jan Smith and her protégé, Alex Hall; Brandon Bush; and Dr. Bobbie Bailey).
Little Richard, who said he had a massive heart attack last week and made the trip from Nashville in a tour bus equipped with a hospital bed, didn’t move much from his spot on the white love seat opposite Green. But he didn’t need to. His naturally loquacious manner and quick-witted zingers kept the crowd – and Green, who grinned like a schoolboy throughout the 30-minute conversation – entertained.
Green – who cited Little Richard as one of the influences when asked to participate in the special event – told the “Good Golly Miss Molly” icon at the start of the presentation, “I’m going to refer to you as ‘father’ for the rest of the night.”
The man born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon 80 years ago was quick to praise Atlanta-native Green, too.
“I was so inspired by you when I first saw you on TV. I could see your humility and that Jesus had something to do with it,” Little Richard said.
While Green, who held a silver-studded mini-fan to stay cool, proved an astute interviewer, he didn’t need to guide Little Richard much, especially when it came to talk of faith.
An ordained minister since 1970, Little Richard frequently steered the conversation to his deep beliefs.
“I’ve loved God all of my life,” he said. “Without God, the era I lived through, I wouldn’t be here now.”
Little Richard also told the crowd several times of the importance of following the Ten Commandments.
“You wonder what’s next? What’s next is Jesus. Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy,” he said.
There were plenty of lighthearted moments as well, some of them surrounding the gaudy-yet-beloved fashion statements that both have made.
Indeed, on this night, Green donned a sparkly yellow tunic getup (“Blake [Shelton] calls this a mumu,” he joked from behind his matching sunglasses) and bare feet, while Little Richard opted for a glossy gray suit and bright blue sequined ankle boots.
“I wanted to wear something fabulous to make sure you didn’t miss me,” Green teased.
“When you came in, I said, ‘He looks like the living flame!”, Little Richard shot back.
The man behind such historical romps as “Tutti-Fruitti” and “Long Tall Sally” also told the crowd that he’s been married for 50 years (“I don’t talk about it because it’s nobody’s business”) and that he’s still good friends with Fats Domino (“He’s 87 now, still cooking gumbo…and he’s eatin’ it all himself”).
This was the first time that Green met Little Richard and when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame legend laid on the praise, Green appeared genuinely humbled and overwhelmed.
“He ain’t scared to tell the truth,” Little Richard said of the man who has brought us Goodie Mob, Gnarls Barkley and a giant unforgettable solo hit. “When I hear him sing, he and Steve Wonder sound like twins. They got that earth, that gut, that thang. That’s t-h-a-n-g.”
Little Richard seems to have more than a bit of that himself, too.