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'Mr. Personality' Lloyd Price Dead At 88


Before Little Richard, there was Lloyd Price, a pioneer of rock 'n' roll.


LLOYD PRICE: (Singing) 'Cause you've got - walk - talk - smile...

KELLY: Singer Lloyd Price died in New Rochelle, N.Y., last week. He was 88. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: His nickname was Mr. Personality, a tenor who owned his own music, was his own agent and manager and more at a time when such independence was extremely rare, especially for a young Black man. When he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, Price talked about growing up in Kenner, La., one of 11 children. As a teen, he listened to a Black radio deejay named Okey Dokey Smith.


PRICE: He would come on - Lawdy Miss Clawdy, eat your mother's homemade pie.

DEL BARCO: Price said he was noodling around with that catch phrase on the piano at his mother's sandwich shop when a New Orleans big band leader stopped by.


PRICE: He said, you know what? There's a record producer - a guy owns a record company - from California coming in to New Orleans. They're looking for young talent to record.

DEL BARCO: So in 1952, when he was 17, Price recorded his song for $50. The record company added Fats Domino on boogie-woogie piano.


PRICE: (Singing) Well now lawdy, lawdy, lawdy, Miss Clawdy. Girl, you sure look good to me. Well, please don't excite me baby. No, it can't be me.

DEL BARCO: "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" was a hit on the R&B charts in 1952 and was performed by Little Richard, Elvis Presley and others. The song attracted Black and white audiences. Price told CUNY TV host Michael Stoller in 2012 that crossover didn't sit so well in the Jim Crow South.


PRICE: The draft board called me in and said that the chairman of the Armed Service (ph) Committee said I had to go in the army. I had to go in the military. And it was because of my music. I was integrating the South. So they took me on in the army and thought that that'd knocked me off, I guess. But I managed to survive that.

DEL BARCO: When he returned from Korea, Price began recording again, including the hit song "Stagger Lee" about a barroom shooting.


PRICE: (Singing) Stagger Lee shot Billy. Oh, he shot that poor boy so bad till the bullet came through Billy, and it broke the bar tender's glass. Look out, snake (ph). Come on.

DEL BARCO: In the 1960s, Price started his own music labels and owned a New York nightclub. And later, he co-promoted prizefights for Muhammad Ali.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.


PRICE: (Singing) Well now lawdy, lawdy, lawdy Miss Clawdy... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.