K.C. Lovin’: Little Willie Littlefield

Little Willie Littlefield, the blues singer and boogie-woogie pianist who recorded the first version of the rock-and-roll standard “Kansas City” and whose piano work influenced generations of rock and blues keyboardists, died June 23 at his home in Voorthuizen, the Netherlands. He was 81. Mr. Littlefield secured his place in blues and rock history before his 21st birthday with his 1952 recording of “K.C. Loving,” which attracted relatively little notice at the time. Seven years later, the simple blues with its infectious, foot-stomping shuffle beat, went to No. 1 in the pop charts as Kansas City by singer Wilbert Harrison.

Mr. Littlefield’s early recordings formed a vital link between boogie-woogie and rock-and-roll. His 1949 recording of It’s Midnight was a No. 3 rhythm-and-blues hit and popularized the piano triplet rhythm. The triplet — three notes for every beat — became a musical signature for New Orleans pianist Fats Domino. Later rock and pop ballads built on the rhythm included Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” the Beatles’ “Oh, Darling,” and even Percy Faith’s “Theme From ‘A Summer Place.’ ”

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