NEW ORLEANS — Lloyd Price, the singer, Kenner native and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who rose to the top of the music charts with 1950s hits “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Personality” and “Stagger Lee,” has died. He was 88.
Price’s manager Tom Tripani confirmed to Rolling Stone that Price died Monday, May 3. No cause of death was provided.
In 1952, Price, then 19, was working out a new song on the piano at his mother's Kenner restaurant when he caught the eye, and ear, of legendary local bandleader and talent scout Dave Bartholomew, who was working with Specialty Records producer Art Rupe.
Price soon found himself in Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studios on North Rampart Street, where he recorded the song, "Lawdy Miss Clawdy," with none other than Fats Domino on piano and Earl Palmer on drums. It would become an immediate hit, selling a million copies and spending seven weeks atop Billboard's R&B charts.
The song’s success would also mark the start of a career with 15 top-ten R&B hits, including "Personality" and "Stagger Lee," both of which Price recorded.
The phenomenal success of “Miss Clawdy” in 1952 shocked Price himself.
He was said to have been inspired to write the song because of the catchphrase of James “Okey Dokey” Smith, a disc jockey at WBOK Radio, where Price worked. Smith would proclaim “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” as part of his on-air banter.
“It was two weeks, the record (had been playing) on the radio. I'm hearing it every day,” Price told the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “And my brother, my elder brother said, 'Ain't no other Lloyd Price in Kenner. They keep saying (Lloyd Price). Is that you?' I said, 'I think so!' I had never heard myself. I never heard nothing about a microphone. And a week or so later, the world just blew loose."
In an interview that accompanied his 1998 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the singer touted the song’s impact as an early rhythm and blues hit, before the term was popularized.
“I revolutionized the South. Before ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy,’ white kids were not really interested in this music. People like Charles Brown and Fats Domino really only sold to the black community. But 10 months after I was in business, they were putting up ropes to divide the white and black spectators. But by 10 o’clock at night, they’d all be together on that dance floor.”
The song was recorded by many other artists, including Elvis Presley.
Despite his 1952 success, Price’s career stalled when he was drafted into the Korean War the next year. When he returned, his record label, Specialty, had shifted its attention to another star singer, Little Richard.
According to Rolling Stone, Price then co-founded his own label, KRC Records, and scored several more hits: “Just Because,” “Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day?)” and his 1958 rendition of the murder ballad “Stagger Lee.” It reached Number One on the Billboard charts, and was later included among Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Price followed that up with another smash, “Personality,” a single that earned Price his nickname for the ensuing decades, “Mr. Personality.”
In recent years, Price was honored by his hometown of Kenner, which named Lloyd Price Avenue for him.
According to Rolling Stone, Price moved to Nigeria for a decade; in Africa, he helped put on the music festival tied to the “Rumble in the Jungle” Muhammad Ali-George Foreman heavyweight championship fight in 1974. He appeared in the 1996 documentary about that fight, When We Were Kings.
Price also made an appearance as himself in an episode of the HBO series Treme.