Charles Connor, Drummer Who Played With Little Richard and Sam Cooke, Dead at 86

Influential rock & roll drummer Charles Connor died early Saturday while under hospice care at his home in Glendale, California, his daughter told The Associated Press Monday. The musician, who played with icons like Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and James Brown in the '50s, passed away at the age of 86 in his sleep after being diagnosed with the brain disorder normal pressure hydrocephalus.

"He was one of those drummers that was a bricklayer of creating that rock & roll genre," his daughter, Queenie Connor Sonnefeld, told the outlet in a statement. "He played behind so many legendary musicians in the Fifties. He was a loving grandfather and was very proud of his family and took a lot of pride in his contributions to rock & roll."

Connor first began playing the drums at age 12, and just three years later started his professional career when hired last-minute by singer and pianist Professor Longhair for the 1950 Mardis Gras celebration. When he turned 18, Connor joined Richard's original road band, The Upsetters, which appeared in films like The Girl Can't Help It, Don't Knock the Rock and Mr. Rock 'n' Roll.

"Little Richard was an ingenious promoter," Connor recalled of his time with the "Tutti Fruitt" artist in his official website bio. "To draw attention to his band and ensure they could perform on stage, he had to show bigots that the band wouldn't threaten their way of life. Little Richard promoted the band and avoided racial prejudice by insisting the musicians wear thick pancake makeup and act effeminate!"

He continued that he was only 20 when the band toured through the U.S. in 1955, playing at theaters including the Turner Arena and Howard Theater in Washington, D.C.; the Royal Theater in Baltimore, Maryland; the Apollo Theater in Harlem and the Paramount Theater with Alan Freed in Brooklyn. "In New York, the white teenagers saw blacks having so much fun that they would dance in the aisles with them!" he wrote. "Man, those were heady times."


Connor would go on to tour with other musicians including James Brown, Jackie Wilson and the original Coasters, and was awarded special recognition for his work by Rep. Maxine Waters in 1994. In 2008, Connor released his book, Don't Give Up Your Dreams: You Can Be a Winner Too! and in 2010, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. In 2013, Connor released the EP "Still Knockin," and at the time of his death, he was working on an autobiographical documentary.