Charles Connor, Legendary Drummer for Acts Like Sam Cooke and Little Richard, Dies at 86

by Anna Dunn

Charles Connor, a legendary drummer who performed with acts like Sam Cooke, Little Richard, and James Brown has died at 86. Connor passed away in his California home after a battle with a brain disorder called normal pressure hydrocephalus.

His Daughter, Queenie Connor Sonnefeld, spoke to The Associated Press about the tremendous loss. She described the drummer as not only a legend, but as a great father filled with optimism.

“He was one of those drummers that was a bricklayer of creating that rock ‘n’ roll genre. He played behind so many legendary musicians in the 1950s,” she said. She also explained that Connor, “was a loving grandfather and was very proud of his family and took a lot of pride in his contributions to rock ‘n’ roll.”

Connor has been described as “one of the men that gave Rock n’ Roll its beat.” He was even awarded special recognition for his work by Rep. Maxine Waters in 1994.

Connor started playing drums at the age of 12, by his adult years, he was changing the music industry. He started his professional career at only 15 when a singer and pianist named Professor Longhair needed a replacement drummer last minute.

Charles Connor’s Life Changed When He Was Asked to Join Little Richard on Tour

In 1953, Little Richard invited Connor to join The Upsetters, and Connor proceeded to tour with Little Richard for years to come. In 2009, Connor recalled to Goldmine Magazine how he and Little Richard came up with a beat that would change Rock N’ Roll during their time in Macon, Georgia.

“We went to the train station on 5th St., and I said, ‘Now, what do he want me to go to the train station on 5th Street for? Why?’ He said, ‘Charles, I want you to hear this train pull off.’ And so the train pulled off like [makes choo-choo sound] … he said, ‘That’s the kind of beat I want you to do.'”

After that Connor provided the beats that helped Launch Little Richard into fame. And after Little Richard pulled away from music, he had plenty of people lined up, asking for the drummer to join them.

And his daughter’s comments on his optimism can be seen in his book, aptly titled Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams! You can Be a Winner Too!. Before he passed, Connor was working on an autobiographical documentary. He was releasing music long into his later years, coming out with an EP, Still Knockin, in 2013.

When his music career slowed so he could focus more on family, the drummer worked as a security guard for radio station KROQ. Those who worked at the station reportedly adored Connor.

“Every day I went in the studio, I’d ask Charles for a story,” KROQ air personality Kat Corbett told Variety, “about growing up in New Orleans, what it was like for Black musicians playing for white audiences, the ladies… oh, he loved the ladies. He was truly one of a kind.”