Friday, April 22, 2022

Art Rupe, who Helped Make R&B Mainstream, Dead at 104

The man behind the man who claimed to have invented rock 'n' roll is dead.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Art Rupe, who helped launch the career of Little Richard, the self-declared inventor of the art form, has died.

According to the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation, Rupe, 104, died this past Friday (April 15) at his home in Santa Barbara, Calif. No cause of death was released.

Rupe signed Richard who told Rolling Stone in 1990 that he was the undisputed creator of the hard-driving music style and released one of the genres defining songs and greatest hits with “Tutti Frutti” in 1955.

With one of the most famous openings in rock 'n' roll history, "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop, A-lop-bam-boom," “Tutti Frutti” is one of the most influential songs in rock history. In fact, in 2010, the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry added it to its archives for preservation, stating that the "unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music.”

Most music historians cite Chuck Berry, the man the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, itself, declares the “Father of Rock & Roll” on its website, as its progenitor, but that didn’t stop Richard from making audacious claims of its descent until his death in 2020.

"I really feel from the bottom of my heart that I am the inventor [of rock & roll]” Richard told Rolling Stone in 1990. "If there was somebody else, I didn't know them, didn't hear them, haven’t heard them. Not even to this day. So, I say I'm the architect."
In addition to introducing the world to Richard’s flamboyant, loud and very successful act, as the founder of Specialty Records, an innovative, independent label based in Los Angeles, he helped bring R&B music into the mainstream.

Founded in 1946 in Los Angeles, Specialty gave big breaks to a stable of R&B's finest —Sam Cooke and his gospel group the Soul Stirrers, Lloyd Price and John Lee Hooker among others.

“Specialty Records’ growth paralleled, and perhaps defined, the evolution of Black popular music, from the ‘race’ music of the 1940s to the rock n’ roll of the 1950s,” music historian Billy Vera wrote in the liner notes to “The Specialty Story,” a five-CD set that came out in 1994.

According to the foundation, Rupe was born Arthur N. Goldberg on September 5, 1917, to a Jewish working-class family in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He set off for Los Angeles in 1939 to make his way in the world, later changing his surname to "Rupe" when he learned from his paternal grandfather that this was, in fact, the family name, "Goldberg" having been adopted at Ellis Island.

In 1944 Rupe, who had developed an interest in R&B while growing up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood, founded Juke Box Records to produce what he called “race records.” It was music made by and for Blacks.

The label scored its first hit record with “Boogie #1,” selling 70,000 copies, and by 1946, Rupe had set out on his own. His new label, Specialty Records, helped popularize R&B as well as set the foundation for the emergence of rock 'n' roll.

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