Lloyd Price musical takes a deep dive into life, career of hitmaker behind ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy,’ ‘Personality’

Known as “Mr. Personality” after his hit song, Price, born in 1933, was a prolific songwriter and gifted singer.

SHARE Lloyd Price musical takes a deep dive into life, career of hitmaker behind ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy,’ ‘Personality’
Donnie Hammond, Charlotte McKinley, Saint Aubyn, Lizzie Mason and Desiree Murphy in the People’s Light production of “Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical” © Mark Garvin 250

Donnie Hammond (from left), Charlotte McKinley, Saint Aubyn, Lizzie Mason and Desiree Murphy in the People’s Light production of “Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical.”

© Mark Garvin 250

When novice songwriter and singer Lloyd Price went into a New Orleans recording studio for the first time in the early ‘50s to record “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” which would become his first hit song, he had no idea what to expect. In fact, still in his teens, he’d never even been to New Orleans even though he grew up just outside the city in Kenner, Louisiana.

It’s just one of stories told in “Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical,” a new musical-bio that unspools the many significant experiences of Price’s long, successful career in the music industry and beyond.

Price, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, is perhaps most recognized as the pop star with a soulful sound who wrote and recorded hit songs that heralded the early beginnings of rock ‘n’ roll, including the aforementioned tune as well as “Stagger Lee” and “Personality,” all Top 10 hits in the 1950s. But dig deeper and Price’s story becomes even more profound.

lloyd price musical

‘Personality: The Lloyd Price Musical’

When: June 2-Sept. 3

Where: Studebaker Theater, Fine Arts Building, 410 S. Michigan

Tickets: $45+

Info: personalitymusical.com

The show’s book writer B. Jeffrey Madoff became acquainted with Price while making a short documentary about the performer. They became good friends and Madoff realized, after nearly 20 hours of interviewing Price, that his was an incredible story worthy of a larger audience.

“Lloyd had such a great presence and a great catalog,” says Madoff. “But also there was an important story to tell in terms of dealing with issues of race, popular culture and the birth of rock ‘n’ roll.”

“Personality” debuted last year at People’s Light, a theater in the Philadelphia suburbs. Returning to the show from that run to lead the large Chicago cast are Broadway veterans Saint Aubyn (“Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations”) as Price, and Stanley Wayne Mathis (“Jelly’s Last Jam,”) as Harold Logan, Price’s longtime promoter, collaborator and business partner. Another Broadway veteran, Sheldon Epps (“Blues in the Night”) directs.

Known as “Mr. Personality” after his hit song, Price, born in 1933, was a prolific songwriter and gifted singer. He went from digging trenches for septic tanks with his father to national stardom in a short eight months, shattering color lines in music along the way and becoming the first teenager to sell over a million records. However, while the musical covers these triumphs it also focuses on the challenges Price faced, says Madoff.

“Lloyd never allowed himself to be a victim. He always figured out ways over under around or through the obstacles he had to deal with,” Madoff says. “In that way, it’s a truly American story, and I think it’s very important to honor the truths of his story.”

In addition to his storied recording career, Price also was a visionary businessman always intent on reinventing himself. He founded or co-founded several record companies; opened the New York nightclub Birdland along with Hogan; created a food line specializing in Southern foods; and helped promote the Muhammad Ali-George Foreman boxing match in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974, along with the accompanying concert featuring James Brown and B.B. King.

Madoff first created the show’s book and then, with Price’s help, chose the songs. The hits are here but so are many other songs from deep within Price’s catalog. (As well as songs from Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Little Richard and Erma Franklin, whose characters all make appearances in the show.)

“I didn’t want this to be a thin excuse to string together a bunch of hits. I wanted the story to be first,” Madoff recalls, adding, “I was sure I could find the songs to fit his story because there was a certain chronology to his music that also made dramatic sense. The songs you hear are actually a timeline of the things he experienced in his life.”

Aubyn says he loves everything about the music: “The arrangements, the lyrics, the vocal capability” and he wanted to make sure “to honor the originals and honor Lloyd Price in terms of the music but also to bring my own flair to it.”

Adds Madoff: “Aside from the singing and dancing, the Lloyd character has to have charisma and that’s something you can’t direct. In the rehearsal room, watching Saint become that character, constantly peeling back the layers, was amazing.”

Price saw a run-through of “Personality” before his death in 2021.

“At the finale, I looked over at him and tears were streaming down his face,” Madoff says. “He was overcome with emotion and said, ‘I just saw my whole life unfold in front of me.’

“I’m so grateful he was able to see it and that it had an impact on him.”


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