How Little Richard’s ‘Tutti Frutti’ came to be inside this French Quarter music studio

(Picture: the location of the former J & M Recording Studio at 840 N. Rampart St., where Little Richard recorded “Tutti Frutti” in 1955. Jason Riedy/CC Flickr)
Little Richard (born Richard Penniman in Macon Georgia) passed away on May 9 at the age of 87 and was earned the nicknames such as “The Innovator” for his contributions to rock and roll music, even though he didn’t invent the genre. Penniman’s hit single “Tutti Frutti,” which was recorded inside a French Quarter studio, is often credited with shifting the evolution of rock music for the next 60-plus years.

J & M Recording Studio, located at 840 N. Rampart St., was operated by Cosimo Matassa, a young sound engineer and Tulane chemistry dropout who recorded Penniman’s single, along with some of rock and roll’s earlier hits. The historic building, which many consider the birthplace of rock music, currently houses a laundromat.

Archived interview footage, including with Penniman and other historical figures, provide brief, first-hand accounts on the genesis of Tutti Frutti inside J & M.

While historians often cite late 1940s hits performed by Fats Domino and Roy Brown as some of its earliest examples of rock and roll recorded at J & M, Penniman’s recording of Tutti Frutti in 1955 changed things.

It wasn’t just Penniman’s energetic piano playing, but also his vocal ability and flamboyant showmanship, which included fancy dress and flashy hair styles, that added to his repertoire.

“Everything he did was dynamic,” Matassa told WGBH in 1995. “He’s an exciting performer. He performs as one of the best and he believes he’s the best, and he plays that way and he sings that way.”

Daniel Hartwig | CC Flickr

Penniman had recorded under several labels before Los Angeles-based Specialty Records sent him to New Orleans to record in early 1955, although it took several months for inspiration to manifest itself.

Tutti Frutti’s exact origins aren’t clear, although rock historian Richie Unterberger said it was an obscene little ditty played by Penniman in between recording sessions. Penniman gives a similar account, according to one interview.

According to biographer David Kirby, the song refers to anal sex. Penniman gave such a clue during a 1987 interview with David Brenner.

Dorothy LaBostrie, a songwriter hired to work with Penniman, offered a different version of events in an interview with WGBH. While she acknowledged Penniman’s tendency to recite songs with “dirty” lyrics, LaBostrie said Tutti Frutti‘s title was inspired by an ice cream flavor and wrote its lyrics in 15 minutes upon hearing a request from Penniman.

“I listened to his voice and I saw down and I wrote it,” LaBostrie said. “When I came back out and he stood at the piano. He went to banging, banging, hollering and then I took the song up and began to sing wamp poma luma poma lump bam boom. He couldn’t take a word from mine.”

The song was hit and earned Penniman instant fame, along with other subsequent hits. The success, however, was short-lived as Penniman suddenly quit rock and roll in 1957 while on tour in Australia.

Expressing “great fear” over the recent launching of Sputnik by the Soviet government and believing the world would end, Penniman ended his world tour early to “get his affairs in order,” according to the Atlanta Daily World.

Penniman became a gospel music performer and vowed to become an evangelist, enrolling in Seventh-day Adventist school at Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama—his reported final resting place, according to Essence magazine.

Penniman returned to rock and roll in the early 1960s with a little help from British invasion bands, according to Unterberger, but never regained the success achieved years earlier and instead lived out his days as a living legend.

Police search for suspect who allegedly robbed Keys Fuel Mart on Feb. 13 wearing hunting camouflage

Surveillance camera footage of an alleged suspect who robbed the Keys Fuel Mart gas station on Feb. 13. Courtesy of the NOPD.

The New Orleans Police are searching for a suspect wanted in connection to an alleged Feb. 13 armed robbery at the Keys Fuel Mart gas station on North Rampart Street.

The robbery occurred at about 12:31 a.m. when a suspect wearing hunting camouflage entered the Keys Fuel Mart in the 1100 block of North Rampart Street and displayed a handgun at the clerk, New Orleans Police said.

The suspect handed a white plastic bag to the clerk, who filled it with an unknown amount of cash and handed it back to the suspect, police said.

Courtesy of the NOPD.

The suspect then fled the scene up Governor Nicholls Street toward North Claiborne Avenue, then unknown after that, New Orleans Police said.

Anyone with information on this incident is asked to contact NOPD First District detectives at 504-658-6010. Anonymous callers can contact Crimestoppers at 504-822-1111 or toll-free at 877-903-7867.

Body left in Hard Rock Hotel collapse exposed after tarp falls off, then re-covered; Friday protest planned at City Hall

The body of a victim killed by the Hard Rock Hotel collapse was re-covered by a tarp by New Orleans city crews Wednesday after the previous one blew off and exposed the remains.

Photos of the body showing its legs dangling off the side of the collapsed portion of the hotel emerged on social media earlier this week, sparking outrage.

The hotel partially collapsed on the morning of Oct. 12, killing Anthony Magrette, 49; Quinnyon Wimberly, 36; and Jose Ponce Arreola, 63; and injuring dozens more.

The bodies of Wimberly and Arreola are still trapped inside.

In a Facebook post on Jan. 22, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said the conditions of the collapse have deteriorated since October, making access to the remains “extremely difficult and very dangerous.”

She added that the body of one victim is embedded in highly unstable debris 11 stories above street level and adjusting the tarp to re-cover the body again a “significant safety challenge.”

A new, yellow-colored tarp was placed over the body by city crews on the same day, according to WVUE.

Shortly before the body was uncovered, Cantrell took to social media to scold those who took pictures of the exposed body.

The outrage was shared across social media, except it was directed at Cantrell and other officials, as well as the owner of the collapsed site, Mohan Kailas.

A protest reportedly organized by Trey Monaghan will organize in front of the collapse site near the corner of Canal and North Rampart streets Friday afternoon, according to The Gambit, and march to City Hall. The protest starts at 3 p.m.

WGNO reported that 1031 Canal Development LLC, which owns the Hard Rock property, said the city has control of the site.

During a Jan. 17 press conference, Cantrell said the building could be demolished as early as March and added that retrieving the trapped bodies is her “top priority.”

D.H. Griffin Companies will be managing the demolition of the hotel, Cantrell said, and is “more than confident” that the contractor can safely implode the building.

Zulu, Endymion parades rerouted around French Quarter due to Hard Rock collapse

Zulu parade in 2013. Photo: Derek Bridges | Flickr CC

The 2020 parades for the krewes of Zulu and Endymion will be rerouted around the French Quarter due to the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, a New Orleans city spokeswoman said on Tuesday.

Routes for Endymion and Zulu were modified this Mardi Gras season for public safety reasons due to the hotel collapse, said spokeswoman LaTonya Norton.

The Hard Rock Hotel partially collapsed on the morning of Oct. 12, killing Anthony Magrette, 49; Quinnyon Wimberly, 36; and Jose Ponce Arreola, 63.

An evacuation zone that prohibits public from passing through includes several streets surrounding the hotel, including the corner of North Rampart and Canal streets, which were traditionally part of the Zulu and Endymion parade routes.

This year’s Endymion parade route, which begins at City Park and Orleans avenue, will pass down Canal Street but hook a right down Elk Street, continue to Poydras Street, then turn left and continue to wind its way through the Central Business District until it reaches Julia Street and Convention Center Boulevard.

Zulu’s parade, which begins at Claiborne and Jackson avenues, will make its way to St. Charles Avenue and turn left on Poydras Street, then right onto Loyola Avenue and continue past Canal Street, completely avoiding the French Quarter.

The parades for Endymion and Zulu begin at 4:15 p.m. on Feb. 22 and 8 a.m. on Feb. 25, respectively.

Maps for the modified routes are available on routewise.nola.gov.

Residents and visitors are also encouraged to text MARDIGRAS to 888777 to receive updates on parade schedules, transportation impacts, public safety, and weather information directly from the city.

Demolition permits filed for three buildings adjacent to the Hard Rock Hotel

Permits were filed to demolish a handful of structures near the Hard Rock building, according to the Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents, and Associates (VCPORA).

Demolition permits were filed for three addresses, according to VCPORA, and they include: 1019 Canal St., 1027 Canal St. and 1022 Iberville St.

The permits for the Canal properties show they are “located in the Red zone” of the Hard Rocket Hotel at 1031 Canal St. and demolition of the structures are “necessary to facilitate demolition operations and planning required” at the partially collapsed building.

The Hard Rock Hotel partially collapsed on Oct. 12 at 9:12 a.m., according to various reports, killing three workers, injuring dozens more and strewing debris near the intersection of Canal and North Rampart streets.

Several videos of the collapse emerged hours later on social media.

The cause of the collapse is still under investigation.

A partial implosion of the building on Oct. 20 toppled the construction cranes, leaving one dangling and the other crashing down onto North Rampart Street.

But the remainder of the building remains standing. The hotel project reportedly cost $85 million.

The two Canal street buildings are owned by LLCs registered to the same officer and manager of the Hard Rock property, VCPORA said.

The developer listed for the Hard Rock building and adjacent properties is listed as 1031 Canal Development LLC, which wants to demolish the 18-story Hard Rock building and adjacent structures.

The demolition requests will appear for approval before the Jan. 8, 2020 meeting of the Central Business District Historical District Landmarks Commission.

“We seriously question the need for further removal of this block and are trying to find out more,” VCPORA said on its Facebook page Dec. 18.

The Oct. 12 collapse killed Anthony Magrette, 49; Quinnyon Wimberly, 36; and Jose Ponce Arreola, 63.

The bodies of Wimberly and Ponce were reported to still be trapped inside the rubble, according to The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate.

The newspaper reported that relatives of those who were killed in the collapsed have filed lawsuits against the groups behind the construction–including 1031 Canal Development LLC and Citadel Builders.

Delmer Joel Ramirez Palma, a Honduran national and Hard Rock worker who survived the collapse and later voiced his concerns to investigators, was deported on Nov. 29, WWLTV reported.