Birthday: December 5, 1932
Died At Age: 87
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Also Known As: Richard Wayne Penniman
Born Country: United States
Born in: Macon, Georgia, U.S.A
Quotes By Little Richard
Height: 5'10" (178 cm), 5'10" Males
father: Charles Penniman
mother: Leva Mae Penniman
children: Danny Jones Penniman
Died on: May 9, 2020
place of death: Tullahoma, Tennessee
Cause of Death: Cancer
U.S. State: Georgia, African-American From Georgia
City: Macon, Georgia
education: Oakwood College, Huntsville, AL
Little Richard, born as Richard Wayne Penniman, is a musician who defined the rock and roll music scenario in the America of the 1950s with his flamboyant style, sexy lyrics, and dynamic music. He was one of the first male artists to unabashedly wear makeup on stage and was famous for his androgynous dance moves. He revolutionized the music world by introducing a certain kind of freedom characterized by the open expression of sexuality and rebellion. His music marked by loud screams, whooping sounds and sexually suggestive lyrics set the trend which several other rock and roll musicians tried to emulate over the years. He grew up malnourished in a poor neighbourhood and sought solace in church activities and prayers. He was also made fun of because of his effeminate appearance. His father threw him out of the house when he was a teenager because of rumours regarding his sexuality. He overcame the hardships of his youth to become one of the foremost figures of American rock and roll music and gave the world hits like ‘Tutti-Frutti’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’. He inspired several musicians, including the Beatles with his musical style and enjoyed a long and productive career that spanned over six decades.
Childhood & Early Life
Little Richard was born on December 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, as one of the twelve children of Charles Penniman and Leva Mae. His father was a church deacon who also sold bootlegged moonshine. He grew up in an impoverished neighbourhood and was called Little Richard because of his small frame.
He was from a highly religious family and used to sing in the church choir as a child. He was a naturally born singer blessed with a loud voice.
He attended Macon’s Hudson High School. He was not bright academically but possessed great musical talents and played with the school’s marching band.
He had an effeminate appearance and homosexual tendencies because of which his father kicked him out of the house when he was a teenager.
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After being kicked out of the house in 1948, Little Richard joined Dr. Hudson’s Medicine Show before he began performing at a local nightclub called the Tick Tock Club. The owner of the club, Ann Johnson took the youngster to live with her family after he told her of his family problems.
In 1950, he began performing for various vaudeville groups like Sugarfoot Sam, Tidy Jolly Steppers and Broad Follies. During this time he earned a reputation as a drag performer.
He was heavily influenced by the music of R&B artists Roy Brown and Billy Wright, and forged a friendship with the later. Wright introduced him to Zenas Sears who helped him sign a contract with Camden. His single ‘Every Hour’ became a hit in the Georgia area. However, he could not find much success with Camden and left them in 1952.
He began heading a vocal group called the Tempo Toppers in 1953 and performed with them as a part of blues package tours at clubs.
The producer of Specialty Records, Art Rupe was looking for a pianist cum singer to lead a group of musicians. He selected Richard after listening to his demo tape. He recorded a single ‘Tutti Frutti’ in 1955 which became an instant hit and peaked at No. 2 on Billboard's Rhythm and Blues Best-Sellers chart.
He released another single ‘Long Tall Sally’ in 1956 which became his first hit song to reach No. 1 on the R&B chart. It sold over a million copies.
Following this success he became a much sought after artist to perform on package tours traveling across the United States. He was one of the first artists who was equally popular among both whites and blacks and is credited to have united the races with his music.
He released his debut album ‘Here’s Little Richard’ in 1957. It featured his super hit single ‘Long Tall Sally’ and reached No. 13 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. It was followed by ‘Little Richard’ in 1958 and ‘The Fabulous Little Richard’ in 1959.
He shocked his fans by abruptly announcing that he got a sign from God to quit the music business. He enrolled at Oakwood College to study theology and ended his contract with Specialty Records in 1959.
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He formed the Little Richard Evangelistic Team and traveled all over the country to preach. He began recording gospel music and released three religious albums: ‘Pray Along with Little Richard (Vol. 1 & 2)’ and ‘The King of the Gospel Singers’ (1962).
During the 1960s he decided to make a comeback to pop music and brought out the album ‘Little Richard Is Back (And There's A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On!)’, his first rock music album in five years in 1964.
His friend Larry Williams produced Little Richard’s album ‘The Explosive Little Richard’ in 1967. The album was composed of cover versions and originals; however, failed to chart on Billboard.
He struggled in making a comeback to rock and roll and his albums could not find much success. But, he did make a spectacular comeback as a live artist who performed at casinos and resorts. He was the star performer at several shows like Atlantic City Pop Festival and Toronto Pop Festival.
His success as a live performer made him a celebrity again and he was invited to appear on a number of television programs like the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and the Dick Cavett Show.
By the 1970s, he had developed severe drug addiction and alcoholism and once again decided to quit rock and roll music. He returned to evangelism in 1977.
During the 1980s and 1990s he made several appearances in films in minor roles.
The single ‘Tutti Frutti’ was his first major hit which became a model for rock and roll with its hard-driving music and wild lyrics. The song is credited to have heralded the birth of rock and roll.
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‘Long Tall Sally’ is another one of his iconic songs. It is included in Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Awards & Achievements
Little Richard won the Cashbox Triple Crown Award for ‘Long Tall Sally’ in 1956.
The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to him in 1993.
He was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994.
Personal Life & Legacy
Little Richard's sexual orientation has always been a topic of curiosity for the fans. As a teenager he used to have sexual relations with both the sexes. He also displayed voyeuristic tendencies as a teenager.
He was once married to Ernestine Campbell whom he met in 1957. The couple divorced in 1963. He has one adopted son with whom he shares a close relationship.
Little Richard died of bone cancer on 9 May 2020, in Tullahoma, Tennessee.
This legendary singer was idolized by the Beatles star Paul McCartney.
He is regarded as one of the first black crossover artists who brought together fans of all races.