Lloyd Price, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer behind the groundbreaking 1950s pop/R&B hits “Personality” and “Stagger Lee,” died in Westchester County, New York, on Monday (May 3). He was 88.
Kenneth Gamble, one-half of the legendary songwriting/production team Gamble & Huff, tells Billboard that Price was “a great dude who helped me, Leon [Huff] and Thom Bell a lot in the early days” when the three played as a band at Loretta’s Hi-Hat club in New Jersey where Price sometimes performed.
“We had fun competing with Lloyd, who had a funky band,” Gamble continues. “Not only was he a talented singer and performer, Lloyd was also a skillful songwriter: ‘Personality’ was a monster of a song as well as others like the slow drag ‘Just Because.’ Always positive and uplifting, Lloyd was a fearless and independent force … an original.”
A native of the New Orleans suburb Kenner, Louisiana, Price was born on March 9, 1933. A singer in his church’s gospel choir growing up, he helped draw national attention to New Orleans’ unique and burgeoning R&B sound when he landed his first No. 1 R&B hit with 1952’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” released through Los Angeles-based Specialty Records. Follow-up singles such as “Oooh-Oooh-Oooh,” “Ain’t It a Shame” and Tell Me Pretty Baby” reached top 10 R&B between 1952-53.
However, after a stint in the army, Price didn’t reign on the charts again until 1957. That’s when “Just Because” notched No. 3 R&B and became his first pop crossover at No. 29. The single was the first release through Price’s own KRC Records with partners Harold Logan and Bill Boskent — and a portent of things to come.
With distribution through ABC Records, KRC issued several more Price classics: 1958’s million-selling No. 1 R&B/pop smash “Stagger Lee” (his cover of a folk song about a real-life murder), the 1959 million-selling No. 2 pop crossover “Personality” (which earned him the nickname “Mr. Personality”) and that same year’s top 3 pop/R&B hit “I’m Gonna Get Married.” Subsequent R&B hits between 1959 and 1969 include “Three Little Pigs,” “Come Into My Heart,” “Lady Luck,” “Question,” “Misty” and “Bad Conditions.”
An indie pioneer, singer-songwriter Price launched several labels after KRC, among them Double L Records, LPG Records (with boxing promoter Don King) and Turntable. Price, an indefatigable entrepreneur, also opened a club in New York City named Turntable and delved into several other business ventures, including construction to build affordable housing in New York and a line of Southern-style food products. He also helped the aforementioned King promote boxing matches, including 1974’s historic Rumble in the Jungle between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, as well as that bout’s preceding Zaire 74 music festival featuring Bill Withers, James Brown, B.B. King, The Spinners and Miriam Makeba.
In addition to being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Price received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994, entered the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2010 (the same year he performed “Stagger Lee” on the season one finale of the HBO series Treme) and was inducted into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in 2019. He published his autobiography, Lawdy Miss Clawdy: The True King of the 50’s — The Lloyd Price Story with co-author William Waller, through Lloyd Price Books in 2009. Price later penned a series of empowering essays for his 2015 book sumdumhonky.