By Tyler Aquilina
May 08, 2021 at 05:47 PM EDT

Lloyd Price, the singer-songwriter behind such hits as "Personality" and "Stagger Lee" who helped lay the groundwork for the rise of rock 'n roll, has died. He was 88.

Price's wife Jacqueline confirmed his death to The Associated Press. The singer died Monday at a long-term care facility in New Rochelle, New York, of complications from diabetes.

Nicknamed "Mr. Personality" after his 1959 hit, Price was born in Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, in 1933, one of 11 children. He became a crossover success early in his career when his song "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" — recorded when he was just 19 — spent seven weeks atop the Billboard R&B chart in 1952. Inspired by a local DJ's catchphrase, the song was successful with white and Black listeners alike years before the ascent of rock 'n roll, and soon became a key influence on the early rock sound; Elvis would cover the song four years later.

Lloyd Price
Lloyd Price at the 26th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in 2011.
| Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

"I revolutionized the South. Before 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy,' white kids were not really interested in this music," Price later recalled. "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."

Price's incipient career was interrupted, however, when he was drafted and sent to Korea in 1953. Upon his return two years later, he found that his place and sound had been taken over by artists like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Fats Domino (who had played piano on "Lawdy Miss Clawdy"). But Price would soon mount a comeback. He founded his own record label, KRC Records, and recorded a string of top 10 hits including "Personality," "I'm Gonna Get Married," and "Stagger Lee," a version of an old folk song about a barroom murder.

Price was a boldly independent artist, particularly by the standards of the time, holding his own publishing rights and serving as his own agent and manager. Though his musical success faded in the 1960s, Price continued to record sporadically (and founded two more record labels, Double L and Turntable) while branching into other fields. He helped promote Muhammad Ali's "Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire in 1974 and the "Thrilla in Manila" in the Philippines the next year, and would later run two construction companies and a line of Southern-style foods.

His musical career never completely ceased. Price performed with Little Richard, Ben E. King, and more on oldies tours throughout the 1990s and 2000s, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. His final album, This Is Rock and Roll, was released in 2017.

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