Little Richard

Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932),[1] known as Little Richard, is an American recording artist, singer and musician.

Penniman is known for his dynamic blend of jump blues, gospel, New Orleans rhythm and blues and boogie-woogie as well as charismatic showmanship that led to him being one of the founding fathers of the rock and roll genre of the mid-1950s. Born and raised in a religiously devout family in Macon, Georgia, Penniman left home as a teenager where he performed at minstrel shows before moving to Atlanta at the dawn of the 1950s. Inspired by flamboyant jump blues singer and pianist Billy Wright, Penniman adapted Wright's pompadour hairdo, use of makeup and his flashy outfits and through Wright, landed a deal with RCA Records in 1951, though the four recordings released never charted outside Georgia. In 1953, Penniman briefly moved to Houston, Texas and signed with Peacock Records with his group, the Tempo Toppers. However, none of Penniman's recordings with Peacock were successful and Penniman threatened to quit the record business until Lloyd Price advised him to send his music to Art Rupe, eventually signing with Rupe's Specialty Records. Penniman scored his first hit single in late 1955 with the uptempo number, "Tutti Frutti", leading to an eighteen-month run of hit singles and the release of two albums, becoming one of the early stars of rock and roll.

Penniman's career was halted after he suddenly converted back to religion in October 1957 while he was on a package tour in Sydney, Australia. Leaving Specialty Records in 1959, Penniman signed with Mercury Records a couple of years later, releasing the gospel album, King of the Gospel Singers, produced by Quincy Jones, in 1962. Penniman returned to secular music following a tour in the United Kingdom with Sam Cooke as his opening act, and two years later, returned to recording secular music. Penniman struggled with recordings throughout the rest of his career, however, and it was not until his performances at rock and roll revivals and rock festivals that he would return to the mainstream, all while adopting a more flamboyant and androgynous look onstage. Drug abuse and personal deaths led to Penniman to retire again from secular music and return to evangelism in 1977. Penniman returned to the public eye in 1984 after releasing his autobiography, The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Quasar of Rock, with Charles White, resulting in the release of the album, Lifetime Friend, including the single, "Great Gosh A' Mighty", releasing what he called "message music" and marked the first time he mixed the sounds of rock and roll with inspirational lyrics. Penniman returned to performing his rock and roll classics in the late 1980s and continued until a failed hip surgery forced him to retire from show business for good in 2013.

Inducted into the charter class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, Penniman has been a huge influence on many artists of several music genres, including soul, rhythm and blues and rock. In addition to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Penniman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003. In 1993, six years after infamously ranting about not receiving a Grammy, he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award. His signature song, "Tutti Frutti" was included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2010, which stated that his "unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music." In 2015, the National Museum of African American Music[2] honored Little Richard with a Rhapsody & Rhythm Award for his role in the formation of popular music genres and in helping shatter racial divisions in the music industry.

Little Richard
Little Richard in 2007 (cropped)
Little Richard in 2007
Background information
Birth nameRichard Wayne Penniman
BornDecember 5, 1932 (age 86)
Macon, Georgia, U.S.
GenresRock and roll, rhythm and blues, gospel, soul
Occupation(s)Musician, songwriter, pianist
InstrumentsVocals, piano
Years active1947–2013
LabelsRCA Victor, Peacock, Specialty, End, Ronnex, London, Goldisc Records, Little Star Records, Mercury, Atlantic, Vee-Jay, Modern, Okeh, Brunswick, Reprise, K-Tel, Warner Bros., Disney
Associated actsBilly Wright, Larry Williams, Don Covay, Billy Preston, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix

Early life

Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia. He was the third of twelve children of Leva Mae (née Stewart) and Charles "Bud" Penniman. His father was a church deacon who sold bootlegged moonshine on the side and owned a nightclub, the Tip In Inn.[3][4] His mother was a member of Macon's New Hope Baptist Church.[5] Initially, Penniman's first name was supposed to have been "Ricardo" but an error resulted in "Richard" instead.[3][6] The Penniman children were raised in a neighborhood of Macon called Pleasant Hill.[5] In childhood, he was nicknamed "Lil' Richard" by his family, because of his small and skinny frame. A mischievous child who played pranks on neighbors, Penniman began singing in church at a young age.[7][8] Possibly as a result of complications at birth, Penniman had a slight deformity that left one of his legs shorter than the other. This produced an unusual gait; he was mocked for his allegedly effeminate appearance.[9]

Penniman's family was very religious, joining various A.M.E., Baptist and Pentecostal churches, with some family members becoming ministers. Penniman enjoyed the Pentecostal churches the most, because of their charismatic worship and live music.[10] He later recalled that people in his neighborhood during segregation sang gospel songs throughout the day to keep a positive outlook, because "there was so much poverty, so much prejudice in those days".[11] He had observed that people sang "to feel their connection with God" and to wash their trials and burdens away.[12] Gifted with a loud singing voice, Penniman recalled that he was "always changing the key upwards" and that they once stopped him from singing in church for "screaming and hollering" so loud, earning him the nickname "War Hawk".[13] As a child, Penniman would "beat on the steps of the house, and on tin cans and pots and pans, or whatever", while singing, annoying neighbors.[14]

Penniman's initial musical influences were gospel performers such as Brother Joe May, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson and Marion Williams. May, who as a singing evangelist was known as "the Thunderbolt of the Middle West" because of his phenomenal range and vocal power, inspired the boy to become a preacher.[15][16] Penniman attended Macon's Hudson High School,[17] where he was a below-average student. Penniman eventually learned to play alto saxophone joining his school's marching band while in fifth grade.[14] While in high school, Penniman obtained a part-time job at Macon City Auditorium for local secular and gospel concert promoter Clint Brantley. Penniman sold Coca-Cola to crowds during concerts of star performers of the day such as Cab Calloway, Lucky Millinder and his favorite singer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe.[18] In October 1947, 14-year-old Penniman performed with Tharpe at the Macon City Auditorium. After the show Tharpe paid him, inspiring him to become a professional performer.[18][19] A year later he began performing in Doctor Nubillo's traveling show. Penniman was inspired to wear turbans and capes in his career by Nubillo, who also "carried a black stick and exhibited something he called 'the devil's child' - the dried-up body of a baby with claw feet like a bird and horns on its head." Nubillo told Penniman he was "gonna be famous" but that he would have to "go where the grass is greener."[20]

Music career

Beginnings (1949–1955)

Before entering the tenth grade, Penniman left his family home and joined Dr. Hudson's Medicine Show in 1949, performing Louis Jordan's "Caldonia".[20] Penniman recalled the song was the first secular R&B song he learned, since his family had strict rules against playing R&B music, which they considered "devil music."[21] Penniman also performed in drag during this time, performing under the name "Princess LaVonne".[22] In 1950, Penniman joined his first musical band, Buster Brown's Orchestra, where Brown gave him the name Little Richard.[23] Performing in the minstrel show circuit, Penniman, in and out of drag, performed for various vaudeville acts such as Sugarfoot Sam from Alabam, the Tidy Jolly Steppers, the King Brothers Circus and Broadway Follies.[24] Having settled in Atlanta, Georgia at this point, Penniman began listening to rhythm and blues and frequented Atlanta clubs, including the Harlem Theater and the Royal Peacock where he saw performers such as Roy Brown and Billy Wright onstage. Penniman was further influenced by Brown's and Wright's flashy style of showmanship and was even more influenced by Wright's flamboyant persona and showmanship. Inspired by Brown and Wright, Penniman decided to become a rhythm and blues singer and after befriending Wright, began to learn how to be an entertainer from him, and began adapting a pompadour hairdo similar to Wright's, as well as styling a pencil mustache, using Wright's brand of facial pancake makeup and wearing flashier clothes.[25]

Impressed by his singing voice, Wright put him in contact with Zenas Sears, a local deejay. Sears recorded Penniman at his station, backed by Wright's band. The recordings led to a contract that year with RCA Victor.[26] Penniman recorded a total of eight sides for RCA Victor, including the blues ballad, "Every Hour," which became his first single and a hit in Georgia.[26] The release of "Every Hour" improved his relationship with his father, who began regularly playing the song on his nightclub jukebox.[26] Shortly after the release of "Every Hour", Penniman was hired to front Perry Welch and His Orchestra and played at clubs and army bases for $100 a week.[27] After a year on RCA, Penniman left the label in February 1952 after his songs there failed to become national hits. That same month, Penniman's father Bud was killed after a confrontation outside his club. Penniman continued to perform during this time and Clint Brantley agreed to manage Penniman's career. Moving to Houston, he formed a band called the Tempo Toppers, performing as part of blues package tours in Southern clubs such as Club Tijuana in New Orleans and Club Matinee in Houston. Penniman signed with Don Robey's Peacock Records in February 1953, recording eight sides, including four with Johnny Otis and his band that were unreleased at the time.[28] Like his venture with RCA, none of Penniman's Peacock singles charted despite Penniman's growing reputation for his high energy antics onstage.[29] Penniman began complaining of monetary issues with Robey, resulting in Penniman getting knocked out by Robey during a scuffle. Disillusioned by the record business, Penniman returned to Macon in 1954 and, struggling with poverty, settled for work as a dishwasher for Greyhound Lines. That year, he disbanded the Tempo Toppers and formed a harder-driving rhythm and blues band, the Upsetters, which included drummer Charles Connor and saxophonist Wilbert "Lee Diamond" Smith and toured under Brantley's management.[30][31][32] The band supported R&B singer Christine Kittrell on some recordings, then began to tour successfully, even without a bass guitarist, forcing drummer Connor to thump "real hard" on his bass drum in order to get a "bass fiddle effect."[30] Around this time, Penniman signed a contract to tour with fellow R&B singer Little Johnny Taylor.

At the suggestion of Lloyd Price, Penniman sent a demo to Price's label, Specialty Records, in February 1955. Months passed before Penniman got a call from the label.[33] Finally in September of that year, Specialty owner Art Rupe loaned Penniman money to buy out of his Peacock contract and set him to work with producer Robert "Bumps" Blackwell.[34] Upon hearing Penniman's demo, Blackwell felt Penniman was Specialty's answer to Ray Charles, however, Penniman told him he preferred the sound of Fats Domino. Blackwell sent him to New Orleans where he recorded at Cosimo Matassa's J&M Studios, recording there with several of Domino's session musicians, including drummer Earl Palmer and saxophonist Lee Allen.[35] Initially, Penniman's recordings that month failed to produce much inspiration or interest. Frustrated, Blackwell and Penniman went to relax at the Dew Drop Inn nightclub. According to Blackwell, Penniman then launched into a risqué dirty blues he titled "Tutti Frutti". Blackwell said he felt the song had hit potential and hired songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie to replace some of Little Richard's sexual lyrics with less controversial words.[36][37] Recorded in three takes in September 1955, "Tutti Frutti" was released as a single that November.[38]

Initial success and conversion (1955–1962)

"Tutti Frutti" became an instant hit, reaching No. 2 on Billboard magazine's Rhythm and Blues Best-Sellers chart and crossing over to the pop charts in both the United States and overseas in the United Kingdom. It reached No. 21 on the Billboard Top 100 in America and No. 29 on the British singles chart, eventually selling a million copies.[29][40]

Penniman's next hit single, "Long Tall Sally" (1956), hit number one on the R&B chart and number 13 on the Top 100 while reaching the top ten in Britain. Like "Tutti Frutti", it sold over a million copies. Following his success, Little Richard built up his backup band, The Upsetters, with the addition of saxophonists Clifford "Gene" Burks and leader Grady Gaines, bassist Olsie "Baysee" Robinson and guitarist Nathaniel "Buster" Douglas.[41] Penniman began performing on package tours across the United States. Art Rupe described the differences between Penniman and a similar hitmaker of the early rock and roll period by stating that, while "the similarities between Little Richard and Fats Domino for recording purposes were close", Penniman would sometimes stand up at the piano while he was recording and that onstage, where Domino was "plodding, very slow", Penniman was "very dynamic, completely uninhibited, unpredictable, wild. So the band took on the ambience of the vocalist."[42]

Penniman's performances, like most early rock and roll shows, resulted in integrated audience reaction during an era where public places were divided into "white" and "colored" domains. In these package tours, Penniman and other artists such as Fats Domino and Chuck Berry would enable audiences of both races to enter the building, albeit still segregated (e.g. blacks on the balcony and whites on the main floor). As his bandleader at the time, H.B. Barnum, explained, Penniman's performances enabled audiences to come together to dance.[43] Despite broadcasts on TV from local supremacist groups such as the North Alabama White Citizens Council warning that rock and roll "brings the races together," Penniman's popularity was helping to shatter the myth that black performers could not successfully perform at "white-only venues," especially in the South where racism was most overt.[44] Penniman's high-energy antics included lifting his leg while playing the piano, climbing on top of his piano, running on and off the stage and throwing his souvenirs to the audience.[45] Penniman also began using capes and suits studded with multi-colored precious stones and sequins. Penniman said he began to be more flamboyant onstage so no one would think he was "after the white girls".[46]

Penniman claims that a show at Baltimore's Royal Theatre in June 1956 led to women throwing their undergarments onstage at him, resulting in other female fans repeating the action, saying it was "the first time" that had happened to any artist.[47] Penniman's show would stop several times that night due to fans being restrained from jumping off the balcony and then rushing to the stage to touch Penniman. Overall, Penniman would produce seven singles in the United States alone in 1956, with five of them also charting in the UK, including "Slippin' and Slidin'", "Rip It Up", "Ready Teddy", "The Girl Can't Help It" and "Lucille". Immediately after releasing "Tutti Frutti", which was then protocol for the industry, "safer" white recording artists such as Pat Boone re-recorded the song, sending the song to the top twenty of the charts, several positions higher than Penniman's. At the same time, fellow rock and roll peers such as Elvis Presley and Bill Haley also recorded Penniman's songs later in the year. Befriending Alan Freed, Freed eventually put him in his "rock and roll" movies such as Don't Knock the Rock and Mister Rock and Roll. In 1957, Penniman was giving a larger singing role in the film, The Girl Can't Help It.[48] That year, he scored more hit success with songs such as "Jenny, Jenny" and "Keep A-Knockin'" the latter becoming his first top ten single on the Billboard Top 100. By the time he left Specialty in 1959, Penniman had scored a total of nine top 40 pop singles and seventeen top 40 R&B singles.[49][50]

Little richard specialty 624 a
"Good Golly, Miss Molly", 45 rpm recording on Specialty Records

Shortly after the release of "Tutti Frutti", Penniman relocated to Los Angeles. After achieving success as a recording artist and live performer, Penniman settled at a wealthy, formerly predominantly white neighborhood, living close to black celebrities such as boxer Joe Louis.[51] Penniman's first album, Here's Little Richard, was released by Specialty in May 1957 and peaked at number thirteen on the Billboard Top LPs chart. Similar to most albums released during that era, the album featured six released singles and "filler" tracks.[52] In early 1958, Specialty released his second album, Little Richard, which didn't chart. In October 1957, Penniman embarked on a package tour in Australia with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. During the middle of the tour, he shocked the public by announcing he was following a life in the ministry.[53] Penniman would claim in his autobiography that during a flight from Melbourne to Sydney that his plane was experiencing some difficulty and he claimed to have seen the plane's red hot engines and felt angels were "holding it up".[54] At the end of his Sydney performance, Penniman saw a bright red fireball flying across the sky above him and claimed he was "deeply shaken".[54] Though it was eventually told to him that it was the launching of the first artificial Earth satellite Sputnik 1, Penniman claimed he took it as a "sign from God" to repent from performing secular music and his wild lifestyle at the time.[53]

Returning to the States ten days earlier than expected, Penniman read news of his original flight having crashed into the Pacific Ocean as a further sign to "do as God wanted".[55] After a "farewell performance" at the Apollo Theater and a "final" recording session with Specialty later that month, Penniman enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, to study theology.[56][57] Despite his claims of spiritual rebirth, Penniman admitted his reasons for leaving were more monetary. During his tenure at Specialty, despite earning millions for the label, Penniman complained that he did not know the label had cut the percentage of royalties he was to earn for his recordings.[58] Specialty continued to release Penniman recordings, including "Good Golly, Miss Molly" and his version of “Kansas City”, until 1960. Finally ending his contract with the label, Penniman agreed to relinquish any royalties for his material.[59] In 1958, Penniman formed the Little Richard Evangelistic Team, traveling across the country to preach.[60] A month after his conversion, Penniman met Ernestine Harvin, a secretary from Washington, D.C., and the couple married on July 11, 1959.[61] Penniman ventured into gospel music, first recording for End Records, before signing with Mercury Records in 1961, where he eventually released King of the Gospel Singers, in 1962, produced by Quincy Jones, who later remarked that Penniman's vocals impressed him more than any other vocalist he had worked with.[62] His childhood heroine, Mahalia Jackson, wrote in the liner notes of the album that Penniman "sang gospel the way it should be sung".[63] While Penniman was no longer charting in the U.S., some of his gospel songs such as "He's Not Just a Solider" and "He Got What He Wanted", reached the pop charts in the US and the UK [64]

Return to secular music (1962–1979)

In 1962, concert promoter Don Arden persuaded Little Richard to tour Europe after telling him his records were still selling well there. With fellow rock singer Sam Cooke as an opening act, Penniman, who featured a teenage Billy Preston in his gospel band, figured it was a gospel tour and, after Cooke's delayed arrival forced him to cancel his show on the opening date, performed only gospel material on the show, leading to boos from the audience expecting Penniman to sing his rock and roll hits. The following night, Penniman viewed Cooke's well received performance. Bringing back his competitive drive, Penniman and Preston warmed up in darkness before launching into "Long Tall Sally", resulting in frenetic, hysterical responses from the audience. A show at Mansfield's Granada Theatre ended early after fans rushed the stage.[66] Hearing of Penniman's shows, Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles, asked Don Arden to allow his band to open for Penniman on some tour dates, to which he agreed. The first show for which the Beatles opened was at New Brighton's Tower Ballroom that October.[67] The following month they, along with Swedish singer Jerry Williams and his band The Violents,[68] opened for Little Richard at the Star-Club in Hamburg.[69] During this time, Little Richard advised the group on how to perform his songs and taught Paul McCartney his distinctive vocalizations.[69] Back in the U.S., Little Richard recorded six rock and roll songs with the Upsetters for Little Star Records, under the name "World Famous Upsetters", hoping this would keep his options open in maintaining his position as a minister.

In the fall of 1963, Penniman was called by a concert promoter to rescue a sagging tour featuring The Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley and The Rolling Stones. Penniman agreed and helped to save the tour from flopping. At the end of that tour, Penniman was given his own TV special for Granada Television titled The Little Richard Spectacular. The special became a ratings hit and after 60,000 fan letters, was rebroadcast twice.[70] In 1964, now openly re-embracing rock and roll again, Penniman released "Bama Lama Bama Loo" on Specialty Records. Due to his UK exposure, the song reached the top twenty there but only climbed to number 82 in his native country.[71] Later in the year, he signed with Vee-Jay Records, then on its dying legs, to release his "comeback" album, Little Richard Is Back. Due to the arrival of the Beatles and other British bands as well as the rise of soul labels such as Motown and Stax Records and the popularity of James Brown, Penniman's new releases were not well promoted or well received by radio stations . In December 1964, Jimi Hendrix joined Penniman's Upsetters band as a full member.[72][73] In the Spring of 1965, Penniman took Hendrix and Billy Preston to a New York studio where they recorded the Don Covay soul ballad, "I Don't Know What You've Got (But It's Got Me)", which became a number 12 R&B hit.[74][nb 1]

Hendrix and Penniman clashed over the spotlight, Hendrix's tardiness, wardrobe and Hendrix's stage antics. Hendrix also complained over not being properly paid by Penniman. In July 1965, Richard’s Brother Charles fired Jimi. Hendrix's then rejoined The Isley Brothers' band, the IB Specials.[76] Penniman later signed with Modern Records, releasing a modest charter, "Do You Feel It?" before leaving for Okeh Records in early 1966. Okeh paired Penniman with his old friend, Larry Williams, who produced two albums on Penniman, including the studio release, The Explosive Little Richard, which produced the modest charters "Poor Dog" and "Commandments of Love". His second Okeh album, Little Richard's Greatest Hits Recorded Live!, returned him to the album charts.[77][78][79] In 1967, Penniman signed with Brunswick Records but after clashing with the label over musical direction, he left the label that same year.

Little Richard (1967)
Little Richard in 1967

Penniman felt that producers on his labels worked in not promoting his records during this period. Later, he claimed they kept trying to push him to records similar to Motown and felt he wasn't treated with appropriate respect.[80] Little Richard often performed in dingy clubs and lounges with little support from his label. While Penniman managed to perform in huge venues overseas such as England and France, Penniman was forced to perform in the chitlin' circuit. Penniman's flamboyant look, while a hit during the 1950s, failed to help his labels to promote him to more conservative black record buyers.[81] Penniman later claimed that his decision to "backslide" from his ministry, led religious clergymen to protest his new recordings.[82] Making matters worse, Penniman said, was his insistence on performing in front of integrated audiences at the time of the black liberation movement shortly after the Watts riots and the formation of the Black Panthers prevented many black radio disk jockeys in certain areas of the country, including Los Angeles, to play his music.[83] Now acting as his manager, Larry Williams convinced Penniman to focus on his live shows. By 1968, he had ditched the Upsetters for his new backup band, the Crown Jewels, performing on the Canadian TV show, "Where It's At". Penniman was also featured on the Monkees TV special 33⅓ Revolutions per Monkee in April 1969. Williams booked Penniman shows in Las Vegas casinos and resorts, leading Penniman to adapt a wilder flamboyant and androgynous look, inspired by the success of his former backing guitarist Jimi Hendrix. Penniman was soon booked at rock festivals such as the Atlantic City Pop Festival where he stole the show from headliner Janis Joplin. Penniman produced a similar show stealer at the Toronto Pop Festival with John Lennon as the headliner. These successes brought Little Richard to talk shows such as the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and the Dick Cavett Show, making him a major celebrity again.[84]

Responding to his reputation as a successful concert performer, Reprise Records signed Penniman in 1970 where he released the album, The Rill Thing, with the philosophical single, "Freedom Blues", becoming his biggest charted single in years. In May 1970, Penniman made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. Despite the success of "Freedom Blues", none of Penniman's other Reprise singles charted with the exception of "Greenwood, Mississippi", a swamp rock original by guitar hero , Travis Wammack, who incidentally played on the track . It charted only charted briefly on the Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box pop chart, also on the Billboard Country charts ; made a strong showing on WWRL in New York ,before disappearing. Penniman became a featured guest instrumentalist and vocalist on recordings by acts such as Delaney and Bonnie, Joey Covington and Joe Walsh and was prominently featured on Canned Heat's 1972 hit single, "Rockin' with the King". To keep up with his finances and bookings, Penniman and three of his brothers formed a management company, Bud Hole Incorporated.[85] By 1972, Penniman had entered the rock and roll revival circuit, and that year, he co-headlined the London Rock and Roll Show at Wembley Stadium with fellow peer Chuck Berry where he'd come onstage and announce himself "the king of rock and roll", ironically also the title of his 1971 album with Reprise and told the packed audience there to "let it all hang out"; Penniman however was booed during the show when he climbed on top of his piano and stopped singing. The following year, a love ballad he recorded, "In the Middle of the Night", was released with proceeds donated to victims of tornadoes that had caused damage in 12 states.[86] In 1976, Penniman re-recorded eighteen of his classic rock and roll hits in Nashville for K-Tel Records, in high tech. stereo recreations, with a single featuring new versions of "Good Golly Miss Molly" and "Rip It Up" reaching the UK singles chart.[87] By 1973, however, Penniman began struggling onstage, mainly due to his reliance on drugs and alcohol. By 1977, worn out from years of abuse and wild partying as well as a string of personal tragedies, Penniman quit rock and roll again and returned to evangelism, releasing one gospel album, God's Beautiful City, in 1979.[88]

Comeback (1984–1999)

In 1984, Penniman filed a $112 million lawsuit against Specialty Records; Art Rupe and his publishing company, Venice Music; and ATV Music for not paying royalties to him after he left the label in 1959.[89] The suit was settled out of court in 1986.[90] According to some reports, Michael Jackson allegedly gave him monetary compensation for his work when he co-owned (with Sony-ATV) songs by the Beatles and Little Richard.[91] In 1985, Charles White released the singer's authorized biography, Quasar of Rock: The Life and Times of Little Richard, which returned Penniman to the spotlight.[92] Penniman returned to show business in what Rolling Stone would refer to as a "formidable comeback" following the book's release.[92]

Reconciling his roles as evangelist and rock and roll musician for the first time, Penniman stated that the genre could be used for good or evil.[93] After accepting a role in the film Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Little Richard and Billy Preston penned the faith-based rock and roll song "Great Gosh A'Mighty" for its soundtrack.[93] Little Richard won critical acclaim for his film role, and the song found success on the American and British charts.[93] The hit led to the release of the album Lifetime Friend (1986) on Warner Bros. Records, with songs deemed "messages in rhythm", including a gospel rap track.[94] In addition to a version of "Great Gosh A'Mighty", cut in England, the album featured two singles that charted in the UK, "Somebody's Comin'" and "Operator". Penniman spent much of the rest of the decade as a guest on TV shows and appearing in films, winning new fans with what was referred to as his "unique comedic timing".[95] In 1989, Penniman provided rhythmic preaching and background vocals on the extended live version of the U2B.B. King hit "When Love Comes to Town". That same year, Little Richard returned to singing his classic hits following a performance of "Lucille" at an AIDS benefit concert.[96]

In 1990, Penniman contributed a spoken-word rap on Living Colour's hit song, "Elvis Is Dead", from their album Time's Up. [97][98] That same year he appeared in a cameo for the music video of Cinderella's Shelter Me. The following year, he was one of the featured performers on the hit single and video "Voices That Care" that was produced to help boost the morale of U.S. troops involved in Operation Desert Storm. He also recorded a rock and roll version of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" that year that led to a deal with Disney Records, resulting in the release of a hit 1992 children's album, Shake It All About.

Little Richard 1998 color
Little Richard holding a photograph of himself at a Best Buddies International event, 1998

In 1994, Penniman sang the theme song to the award-winning PBS Kids and TLC animated television series The Magic School Bus based on the book series created by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen and published by Scholastic Corporation. He also opened Wrestlemania X on March 20 that year with a rendition of "America the Beautiful".

Throughout the 1990s, Penniman performed around the world and appeared on TV, film, and tracks with other artists, including Jon Bon Jovi, Elton John and Solomon Burke. In 1992 he released his final album, Little Richard Meets Masayoshi Takanaka featuring members of Richard's then current touring band.[99]

Later years (2000–present)

In 2000, Penniman's life was dramatized for the biographical film Little Richard, which focused on his early years, including his heyday, his religious conversion and his return to secular music in the early 1960s. Penniman was played by Leon, who earned an NAACP Image Award nomination for his performance in this role. In 2002, Penniman contributed to the Johnny Cash tribute album, Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to the Songs of Johnny Cash. In 2004-2005, he released two sets of unreleased and rare cuts , from the Okeh label 1966/67 and the Reprise label 1970/72. Included was the full “Southern Child” album , produced and composed mostly by Richard, scheduled for release in 1972, but shelved. 2006, Little Richard was featured in a popular advertisement for the GEICO brand.[100] A 2005 recording of his duet vocals with Jerry Lee Lewis on a cover of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" was included on Lewis's 2006 album, Last Man Standing. The same year, Penniman was a guest judge on the TV series Celebrity Duets. Penniman and Lewis performed alongside John Fogerty at the 2008 Grammy Awards in a tribute to the two artists considered to be cornerstones of rock and roll by the NARAS. That same year, Penniman appeared on radio host Don Imus' benefit album for sick children, The Imus Ranch Record.[101] In June 2010, Little Richard recorded a gospel track for an upcoming tribute album to songwriting legend Dottie Rambo. In 2009, Penniman was Inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame in a concert in New Orleans, attended by Fats Domino.

Throughout the first decade of the new millennium, Penniman kept up a stringent touring schedule, performing primarily in the United States and Europe. However, sciatic nerve pain in his left leg and then replacement of the involved hip began affecting the frequency of his performances by 2010. Despite his health problems, Penniman continued to perform to receptive audiences and critics. Rolling Stone reported that at a performance at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C., in June 2012, Penniman was "still full of fire, still a master showman, his voice still loaded with deep gospel and raunchy power."[102] Little Richard performed a full 90-minute show at the Pensacola Interstate Fair in Pensacola, Florida, in October 2012, at the age of 79, and headlined at the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas during Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend in March 2013.[103][104]

In 2014, actor Brandon Mychal Smith received critical acclaim for his portrayal of Penniman in the James Brown biographical drama film Get on Up.[105][106][107] Mick Jagger co-produced the motion picture.[108][109] In June 2015, Penniman appeared before a paying audience, clad in sparkly boots and a brightly colored jacket at the Wildhorse Saloon in Nashville to receive the Rhapsody & Rhythm Award from and raise funds for the National Museum of African American Music. It was reported that he charmed the crowd by reminiscing about his early days working in Nashville nightclubs.[110][111] In May 2016, the National Museum of African American Music issued a press release indicating that Penniman was one of the key artists and music industry leaders that attended its 3rd annual Celebration of Legends Luncheon in Nashville honoring Shirley Caesar, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff with Rhapsody & Rhythm Awards.[112] In 2016, a new CD was released on Hitman Records, "California (I'm Comin')" with released and previously unreleased material from the 1970s, including an a cappella version of his 1975 single release, "Try To Help Your Brother". On September 6, 2017, Penniman participated in a long television interview, for the Christian Three Angels Broadcasting Network, dressed conservatively and unrecognizable from his stage persona.

Personal life

Relationships and family

Around 1956, Penniman became involved with Audrey Robinson, a 16-year-old college student, originally from Savannah, Georgia.[113][114][115] Penniman and Robinson quickly got acquainted despite Robinson not being a fan of rock and roll music. Penniman claimed in his 1984 autobiography that he invited other men to have sexual encounters with her in groups and claimed to have once invited Buddy Holly to have sex with her; Robinson denied those claims.[113][116] Penniman proposed marriage to Robinson shortly before he converted but Robinson refused. Robinson later became known under the name Lee Angel and became a stripper and socialite.[117] She reconnected with Penniman in the 1960s though Robinson left him again after Penniman's drug abuse worsened, before reuniting for good in the 1980s.[96] Robinson was interviewed for Penniman's 1985 BBC documentary on the South Bank Show and denied Penniman's claims as they went back and forth. According to Robinson, Penniman would use her to buy food in white-only fast food stores since Penniman couldn't get in due to the color of his skin despite the fact that Robinson herself was black, she had a very light complexion.

Penniman met his only wife, Ernestine Harvin, at an evangelical rally in October 1957. They began dating that year and wed on July 12, 1959 in California. According to Harvin, she and Little Richard initially enjoyed a happy marriage with "normal" sexual relations. Harvin claimed when the marriage ended in divorce in 1964, it was due to her husband's celebrity status, noting that it had made life difficult for her. Penniman would claim the marriage fell apart due to his being a neglectful husband and his sexuality.[118] Both Robinson and Harvin denied Penniman's claims that he was gay and Penniman believed they didn't know it because he was "such a pumper in those days".[118] During the marriage, Penniman and Harvin adopted a one-year-old boy, Danny Jones, from a late church associate. [113] Little Richard and his son remain close, with Jones often acting as one of his bodyguards.[119] Ernestine later married Mcdonald Campbell in Santa Barbara, California on March 23, 1975.

Sexuality

Growing up, Penniman said in 1984 that he played with just girls as a child and felt feminine. His walk and talk made him the source of homophobic jokes and ridicule at his expense.[120] Caught wearing his mother's makeup and wardrobe at times, he was brutally punished by his father.[121] The singer claimed being sexually involved with both sexes as a teenager.[122] Because of his effeminate mannerisms, his father kicked him out of their family home at 15.[4] In 1985, on The South Bank Show, Penniman explained, "my daddy put me out of the house. He said he wanted seven boys, and I had spoiled it, because I was gay."[123]

Penniman first got involved in voyeurism in his early twenties, when a female friend would drive him around and pick up men who would allow him to watch them have sex in the backseat of cars. Penniman's activity caught the attention of Macon police in 1955 and he was arrested after a gas station attendant in Macon reported sexual activity in a car Penniman was occupying with a heterosexual couple. Cited on a sexual misconduct charge, he spent three days in jail and was temporarily banned from performing in Macon, Georgia.[124]

In the early 1950s, he got acquainted with openly gay musician Billy Wright, who helped in establishing Penniman's look, advising him to use pancake makeup on his face and wear his hair in a long-haired pompadour style similar to his.[25] As Penniman got used to the makeup, he ordered his band, the Upsetters, to wear the makeup too, to gain entry into predominantly white venues during performances, later stating, "I wore the make-up so that white men wouldn't think I was after the white girls. It made things easier for me, plus it was colorful too."[125] In 2000, Richard told Jet magazine, "I figure if being called a sissy would make me famous, let them say what they want to."[126] Penniman's look, however, still attracted female audiences, who would send him naked photos and their phone numbers.[127][128] Groupies began throwing undergarments at Penniman during performances.

During Penniman's heyday, his obsession with voyeurism carried on with his girlfriend Audrey Robinson. Penniman later wrote that Robinson would have sex with men while she sexually stimulated Penniman.[127] Despite claiming to be born again after leaving rock and roll for the church in 1957, Penniman left Oakwood College after exposing himself to a male student. After the incident was reported to the student's father, Penniman withdrew from the college.[129] In 1962, Penniman was arrested for spying on men urinating in toilets at a Trailways bus station in Long Beach, California.[130] Despite his claims of being gay, Audrey Robinson refuted this in 1985. After re-embracing rock and roll in the mid-1960s, he began participating in orgies and continued to be a voyeur. In his 1984 book, while demeaning homosexuality as "unnatural" and "contagious", he told Charles White he was "omnisexual".[131] In 1995, Little Richard told Penthouse that he always knew he was gay, saying "I've been gay all my life".[113] In 2007, Mojo Magazine referred to Little Richard as "bisexual".[132]

Drug use

During his initial heyday in the 1950s rock and roll scene, Penniman was a teetotaler abstaining from alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Penniman often fined bandmates for drug and alcohol use during this era. By the mid-1960s, however, Penniman began drinking heavy amounts of alcohol and smoking cigarettes and marijuana.[133] By 1972, he had developed an addiction to cocaine. He later lamented during that period, "They should have called me Lil Cocaine, I was sniffing so much of that stuff!"[134] By 1975, he had developed addictions to both heroin and PCP, otherwise known as "angel dust". His drug and alcohol use began to affect his professional career and personal life. "I lost my reasoning," he would later recall.[135]

He said of his cocaine addiction that he did whatever he could to use cocaine.[136] Penniman admitted that his addictions to cocaine, PCP and heroin were costing him as much as $1,000 a day.[137] In 1977, longtime friend Larry Williams once showed up with a gun and threatened to kill him for failing to pay his drug debt. Penniman later mentioned that this was the most fearful moment of his life because Williams's own drug addiction made him wildly unpredictable. Penniman did, however, also acknowledge that he and Williams were "very close friends" and when reminiscing of the drug-fueled clash, he recalled thinking "I knew he loved me – I hoped he did!"[138] Within that same year, Penniman had several devastating personal experiences, including his brother Tony's death of a heart attack, the accidental shooting of his nephew that he loved like a son, and the murder of two close personal friends – one a valet at "the heroin man's house."[137] The combination of these experiences convinced the singer to give up drugs including alcohol, along with rock and roll, and return to the ministry.[139]

Religion

Penniman's family had deep evangelical (Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME)) Christian roots, including two uncles and a grandfather who were preachers.[13] He also took part in Macon's Pentecostal churches, which were his favorites mainly due to their music, charismatic praise, dancing in the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.[10] At age 10, influenced by Pentecostalism, Little Richard would go around saying he was a faith healer, singing gospel music to people who were feeling sick and touching them. He later recalled that they would often indicate that they felt better after he prayed for them and would sometimes give him money.[10] Little Richard had aspirations of being a preacher due to the influence of singing evangelist Brother Joe May.[13]

After he was born again in 1957, Penniman enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, a mostly black Seventh-day Adventist college, to study theology. Little Richard returned to secular music in the early 1960s.[140] He was eventually ordained a minister in 1970 and resumed evangelical activities in 1977. Penniman represented Memorial Bibles International and sold their Black Heritage Bible, which highlighted the Book's many black characters. As a preacher, he evangelized in small churches and packed auditoriums of 20,000 or more. His preaching focused on uniting the races and bringing lost souls to repentance through God's love.[141] In 1984, Penniman's mother, Leva Mae, died following a period of illness. Only a few months prior to her death, Penniman promised her that he would remain a Christian.[93]

During the 1980s and 1990s, Penniman officiated at celebrity weddings. In 2006, Little Richard wedded twenty couples who won a contest in one ceremony.[142] The musician used his experience and knowledge as a minister and elder statesman of rock and roll to preach at funerals of musical friends such as Wilson Pickett and Ike Turner.[143] At a benefit concert in 2009 to raise funds to help rebuild children's playgrounds destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, Penniman asked guest of honor Fats Domino to pray with him and others. His assistants handed out inspirational booklets at the concert, which was a common practice at Penniman's shows.[144] Penniman told a Howard Theatre, Washington, D.C. audience in June 2012, "I know this is not Church, but get close to the Lord. The world is getting close to the end. Get close to the Lord."[102] In 2013, Penniman elaborated on his spiritual philosophies, stating "God talked to me the other night. He said He's getting ready to come. The world's getting ready to end and He's coming, wrapped in flames of fire with a rainbow around his throne." Rolling Stone reported his apocalyptic prophesies generated snickers from some audience members as well as cheers of support. Penniman responded to the laughter by stating: "When I talk to you about [Jesus], I'm not playing. I'm almost 81 years old. Without God, I wouldn't be here."[145]

In 2017, he came back to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and was rebaptized. 3ABN interviewed Penniman, and later he shared his personal testimony at 3ABN Fall Camp Meeting 2017.[146][147][148]

Health problems

In October 1985, Penniman returned to the United States from England, where he had finished recording his album Lifetime Friend, to film a guest spot on the show, Miami Vice. Following the taping, he accidentally crashed his sports car into a telephone pole in West Hollywood, California. He suffered a broken right leg, broken ribs and head and facial injuries.[149] His recovery from the accident took several months.[149] His accident prevented him from being able to attend the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony in January 1986 where he was one of several inductees. He instead supplied a recorded message.[77]

In 2007, Little Richard began having problems walking due to sciatica in his left leg, requiring him to use crutches.[150][151] In November 2009, he entered a hospital to have replacement surgery on his left hip. Despite returning to performance the following year, Penniman's problems with his hip continued and he has since been brought onstage by wheelchair. He has told fans that his surgery has his hip "breaking inside" and refuses to have further work on it. On September 30, 2014, he revealed to CeeLo Green at a Recording Academy fundraiser that he had suffered a heart attack at his home the week prior and stated he used aspirin and had his son turn the air conditioner on, which his doctor confirmed had saved his life. Little Richard stated, "Jesus had something for me. He brought me through".[145]

On April 28, 2016, Little Richard's friend, Bootsy Collins, stated on his Facebook page that, "he is not in the best of health so I ask all the Funkateers to lift him up." Reports subsequently began being published on the internet stating that Little Richard was in grave health and that his family were gathering at his bedside. On May 3, 2016, Rolling Stone reported that Little Richard and his lawyer provided a health information update in which Richard stated, "not only is my family not gathering around me because I'm ill, but I'm still singing. I don't perform like I used to, but I have my singing voice, I walk around, I had hip surgery a while ago but I'm healthy.'" His lawyer also reported: "He's 83. I don't know how many 83-year-olds still get up and rock it out every week, but in light of the rumors, I wanted to tell you that he's vivacious and conversant about a ton of different things and he's still very active in a daily routine."[152] Penniman is now wheelchair bound after his failed hip surgery and after injuries from a fall.

Legacy

Music

Penniman's music and performance style had a pivotal effect on the shape of the sound and style of popular music genres of the 20th century.[29][37][153] As a rock and roll pioneer, Penniman embodied its spirit more flamboyantly than any other performer.[154] Penniman's raspy shouting style gave the genre one of its most identifiable and influential vocal sounds and his fusion of boogie-woogie, New Orleans R&B and gospel music blazed its rhythmic trail.[154][155]

Combining elements of boogie, gospel, and blues, Little Richard introduced several of rock music's most characteristic musical features, including its loud volume and vocal style emphasizing power, and its distinctive beat and rhythm. He departed from boogie-woogie's shuffle rhythm and introduced a new distinctive rock beat, where the beat division is even at all tempos. He reinforced the new rock rhythm with a two-handed approach, playing patterns with his right hand, with the rhythm typically popping out in the piano's high register. His new rhythm, which he introduced with "Tutti Frutti" (1955), became the basis for the standard rock beat, which was later consolidated by Chuck Berry.[156] "Lucille" (1957) foreshadowed the rhythmic feel of 1960s classic rock in several ways, including its heavy bassline, slower tempo, strong rock beat played by the entire band, and verse–chorus form similar to blues.[157]

Penniman's voice was able to generate croons, wails, and screams unprecedented in popular music.[29] He was cited by two of soul music's pioneers, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke, as contributing to that genre's early development. Redding stated that most of his music was patterned after Penniman's, referring to his 1953 recording "Directly From My Heart To You" as the personification of soul, and that he had "done a lot for [him] and [his] soul brothers in the music business."[158] Cooke said in 1962 that Penniman had done "so much for our music".[159] Cooke had a top 40 hit in 1963 with his cover of Penniman's 1956 hit "Send Me Some Loving".[160]

Penniman's hits of the mid-1950s, such as "Tutti Frutti", "Long Tall Sally", "Keep A-Knockin'" and "Good Golly Miss Molly", were generally characterized by playful lyrics with sexually suggestive connotations.[29] AllMusic writer Richie Unterberger stated that Little Richard "merged the fire of gospel with New Orleans R&B, pounding the piano and wailing with gleeful abandon", and that while "other R&B greats of the early 1950s had been moving in a similar direction, none of them matched the sheer electricity of Richard's vocals. With his high speed deliveries, ecstatic trills, and the overjoyed force of personality in his singing, he was crucial in upping the voltage from high-powered R&B into the similar, yet different, guise of rock and roll."[37] Due to his innovative music and style, he's often widely acknowledged as the "architect of rock and roll".[77]

Ray Charles introduced him at a concert in 1988 as "a man that started a kind of music that set the pace for a lot of what's happening today."[161] Rock and roll pioneer Bo Diddley called Penniman "one of a kind" and "a show business genius" that "influenced so many in the music business".[159] Penniman's contemporaries, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, all recorded covers of his works.[162] Taken by his music and style, and personally covering four of Little Richard's tunes on his own two breakthrough albums in 1956, Presley told Little Richard in 1969 that his music was an inspiration to him and that he was "the greatest".[163] Pat Boone noted in 1984, "no one person has been more imitated than Little Richard".[164] As they wrote about him for their Man of the Year – Legend category in 2010, GQ magazine stated that Little Richard "is, without question, the boldest and most influential of the founding fathers of rock'n'roll".[131] R&B pioneer Johnny Otis stated that "Little Richard is twice as valid artistically and important historically as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones put together."[159]

Society

In addition to his musical style, Penniman was cited as one of the first crossover black artists, reaching audiences of all races. His music and concerts broke the color line,[165] drawing blacks and whites together despite attempts to sustain segregation. As H.B. Barnum explained in Quasar of Rock, Little Richard "opened the door. He brought the races together." [166] Barnum described Little Richard's music as not being "boy-meets-girl-girl-meets-boy things, they were fun records, all fun. And they had a lot to say sociologically in our country and the world."[46] Barnum also stated that Penniman's "charisma was a whole new thing to the music business", explaining that "he would burst onto the stage from anywhere, and you wouldn't be able to hear anything but the roar of the audience. He might come out and walk on the piano. He might go out into the audience." Barnum also stated that Penniman was innovative in that he would wear colorful capes, blouse shirts, makeup and suits studded with multi-colored precious stones and sequins, and that he also brought flickering stage lighting from his show business experience into performance venues where rock and roll artists performed.[167] In 2015, the National Museum of African American Music honored Penniman for helping to shatter the color line on the music charts changing American culture forever.[111][168]

"Little Richard was always my main man. How hard must it have been for him: gay, black and singing in the South? But his records are a joyous good time from beginning to end." – Lemmy, Motörhead[169]

Influence

Penniman influenced generations of performers across musical genres.[48] James Brown and Otis Redding both idolized him.[164][170] Brown allegedly came up with the Famous Flames debut hit, "Please, Please, Please", after Richard had written the words on a napkin.[171][172] Redding started his professional career with Little Richard's band, The Upsetters.[173] He first entered a talent show performing Penniman's "Heeby Jeebies", winning for 15 consecutive weeks.[174] Ike Turner claimed most of Tina Turner's early vocal delivery was based on Little Richard, something Little Richard himself reiterated in the foreword of Turner's biography, Takin' Back My Name.[175] Bob Dylan first performed covers of Penniman's songs on piano in high school with his rock and roll group, the Golden Chords; in 1959 when leaving school, he wrote in his yearbook under "Ambition": "to join Little Richard".[176] Jimi Hendrix was influenced in appearance (clothing and hairstyle/mustache) and sound by Penniman. He was quoted in 1966 saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice."[177] Others influenced by Richard early on in their lives included Bob Seger and John Fogerty.[178][179] Michael Jackson admitted that Penniman had been a huge influence on him prior to the release of Off the Wall.[180] Rock critics noted similarities between Prince's androgynous look, music and vocal style to Little Richard's.[181][182][183]

The origins of Cliff Richard's name change from Harry Webb was seen as a partial tribute to his musical hero Little Richard and singer Rick Richards.[184] Several members of The Beatles were heavily influenced by Penniman, including Paul McCartney and George Harrison. McCartney idolized him in school and later used his recordings as inspiration for his uptempo rockers, such as "I'm Down.".[185][186] "Long Tall Sally" was the first song McCartney performed in public.[187] McCartney would later state, "I could do Little Richard's voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing. It's like an out-of-body experience. You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it."[188] During the Beatles' Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, Harrison commented, "thank you all very much, especially the rock 'n' rollers, an' Little Richard there, if it wasn't for (gesturing to Little Richard), it was all his fault, really."[189] Upon hearing "Long Tall Sally" in 1956, John Lennon later commented that he was so impressed that he "couldn't speak".[190] Rolling Stones members Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were also profoundly influenced by Little Richard, with Jagger citing him as his introduction to R&B music and referring to him as "the originator and my first idol".[65] Penniman was an early vocal influence on Rod Stewart.[191] David Bowie called Little Richard his "inspiration" stating upon listening to "Tutti Frutti" that he "heard God".[192][193]

After opening for him with his band Bluesology, pianist Reginald Dwight was inspired to be a "rock and roll piano player", later changing his name to Elton John.[194] Farrokh Bulsara performed covers of Little Richard's songs as a teen, before finding fame as Freddie Mercury, frontman for Queen.[195] Little Richard was referred to as Lou Reed's rock and roll hero, deriving inspiration from "the soulful, primal force" of the sound made by Little Richard and his saxophonist on "Long Tall Sally." Reed later stated, "I don't know why and I don't care, but I wanted to go to wherever that sound was and make a life."[196] Patti Smith said, "To me, Little Richard was a person that was able to focus a certain physical, anarchistic, and spiritual energy into a form which we call rock 'n' roll ... I understood it as something that had to do with my future. When I was a little girl, Santa Claus didn't turn me on. Easter Bunny didn't turn me on. God turned me on. Little Richard turned me on."[197] The music of Deep Purple and Motörhead was also heavily influenced by Little Richard, as well as that of AC/DC.[198][199] The latter's early lead vocalist and co-songwriter Bon Scott idolized Little Richard and aspired to sing like him, it's lead guitarist and co-songwriter Angus Young was first inspired to play guitar after listening to Penniman's music, and rhythm guitarist and co-writer Malcolm Young derived his signature sound from playing his guitar like Penniman's piano.[200][201][202][203][198][199] Later performers such as Mystikal, André "André 3000" Benjamin of Outkast and Bruno Mars were cited by critics as having emulated Penniman's style in their own works. Mystikal's rap vocal delivery was compared to Little Richard's.[204] André 3000's vocals in Outkast's hit, "Hey Ya!", were compared to an "indie rock Little Richard".[205] Bruno Mars admitted Little Richard was one of his earliest influences.[206] Mars' song, "Runaway Baby" from his album, Doo-Wops & Hooligans was cited by The New York Times as "channeling Little Richard".[207] Prior to his passing in 2017, Audioslave's and Soundgarden's frontman Chris Cornell traced his musical influences back to Penniman via The Beatles.[208]

Awards and honors

Little Richard 1988
Little Richard, interviewed during the 60th Annual Academy Awards, 1988

Penniman received the Cashbox Triple Crown Award for "Long Tall Sally" in 1956.[209] In 1984, he was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, being a member of the initial class of inductees chosen for that honor.[77] In 1990, he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994.[210] In 1993, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.[211] In 1997, he was given the American Music Award of Merit.[212] In 2002, along with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, Little Richard was honored as one of the first group of BMI icons at the 50th Annual BMI Pop Awards.[213] That same year, he was inducted into the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame.[214] A year later, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2006, he was inducted into the Apollo Theater Hall of Fame.[215] Four years afterwards, he received a plaque on the theater's Walk of Fame.[216] In 2008, he received a star at Nashville's Music City Walk of Fame.[217] In 2009, he was inducted to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.[218] The UK issue of GQ named him its Man of the Year in its Legend category in 2010.[219]

Penniman appeared in person to receive an honorary degree from his hometown's Mercer University on May 11, 2013.[220] The day before the doctorate of humanities degree was to be bestowed upon him, the mayor of Macon announced that one of Little Richard's childhood homes, an historic site, will be moved to a rejuvenated section of that city's Pleasant Hill district. It will be restored and named the Little Richard Penniman – Pleasant Hill Resource House, a meeting place where local history and artifacts will be displayed as provided by residents.[221][222][223] Penniman was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame on May 7, 2015.[224] On June 6, 2015, Penniman was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame[225] On June 19, 2015, the National Museum of African American Music honored Penniman with the Rhapsody & Rhythm Award for his key role in the formation of popular music genres, influencing singers and musicians across genres from Rock to Hip-Hop, and helping to shatter the color line on the music charts changing American culture forever.[111][168]

In 2010, Time Magazine listed Here's Little Richard as one of the 100 Greatest and Most Influential Albums of All Time.[52] Included in numerous Rolling Stone listed his Here's Little Richard at number fifty on the magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.[226] He was ranked eighth on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[227] Rolling Stone listed three of Little Richard's recordings, "The Girl Can't Help It", "Long Tall Sally" and "Tutti Frutti", on their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.[228] Two of the latter songs and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" were listed on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.[229] The Grammy Hall of Fame inducted several of Little Richard's recordings including "Tutti Frutti", "Lucille", "Long Tall Sally" and Here's Little Richard.[230] In 2007, an eclectic panel of renowned recording artists voted "Tutti Frutti" number one on Mojo's The Top 100 Records That Changed The World, hailing the recording as "the sound of the birth of rock and roll."[231][232] In April 2012, Rolling Stone magazine declared that the song "still has the most inspired rock lyric on record."[233] The same recording was inducted to the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry in 2010, with the library claiming the "unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music".[234]

In early 2019, Maggie Gonzalez, a resident of Macon, Georgia, began an online campaign proposing that a statue of Little Richard be erected in downtown Macon, taking the place of a Confederate memorial that currently occupies the space. Georgia law forbids the tearing down of Confederate statues, though they can be relocated; Gonzalez has proposed that it could be moved to nearby Rose Hill Cemetery.[235]

Discography

Studio albums

Filmography

Let the Good Times Roll (1973) featured performances and behind-the-scenes candid footage of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Bill Haley, the Five Satins, the Shirelles, Chubby Checker, and Danny and the Juniors.[237]

Notes

  1. ^ Three other songs were recorded during the sessions, "Dance A Go Go" aka "Dancin' All Around The World", "You Better Stop", and "Come See About Me" (possibly an instrumental), but Vee Jay did not release the latter two.[75]

Citations

  1. ^ Eagle, Bob; LeBlanc, Eric S. (2013). Blues - A Regional Experience. Santa Barbara: Praeger Publishers. p. 275. ISBN 978-0313344237.
  2. ^ "The National Museum of African American Music » 2015 My Music Matters: A Celebration of Legends Luncheon". NMAAM. Archived from the original on February 28, 2017. Retrieved January 17, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Kirby 2009, p. 30.
  4. ^ a b White 2003, p. 21.
  5. ^ a b White 2003, p. 3.
  6. ^ White 2003, pp. 4–5.
  7. ^ Otfinoski 2010, p. 144.
  8. ^ White 2003, p. 7.
  9. ^ White 2003, p. 6.
  10. ^ a b c White 2003, pp. 16–17.
  11. ^ White 2003, pp. 7–9.
  12. ^ White 2003, p. 8.
  13. ^ a b c White 2003, p. 16.
  14. ^ a b White 2003, p. 18.
  15. ^ White 2003, pp. 15–17.
  16. ^ Ryan 2004, p. 77.
  17. ^ Seibert, David. "Ballard-Hudson Senior High School". GeorgiaInfo: an Online Georgia Almanac. Digital Library of Georgia. Retrieved November 7, 2016.
  18. ^ a b White 2003, p. 17.
  19. ^ Lauterbach 2011, p. 152.
  20. ^ a b White 2003, pp. 21–22.
  21. ^ White 2003, p. 22: "It was the only song I knew that wasn't a church song".
  22. ^ White 2003, pp. 22–25.
  23. ^ White 2003, pp. 22–23.
  24. ^ White 2003, pp. 24–25.
  25. ^ a b White 2003, p. 25.
  26. ^ a b c White 2003, p. 28.
  27. ^ White 2003, p. 29.
  28. ^ White 2003, pp. 36–38.
  29. ^ a b c d e Langdon C. Winner. "Little Richard (American musician)". Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 7, 2013.
  30. ^ a b White 2003, pp. 38–39.
  31. ^ Allmusic 2013a.
  32. ^ Jonny Whiteside, "Charles Connor: The Rock and Roll Original", LA Weekly, May 14, 2014.
  33. ^ White 2003, pp. 40–41.
  34. ^ Nite 1984, p. 390.
  35. ^ White 2003, pp. 44–47.
  36. ^ White 2003, pp. 55–56.
  37. ^ a b c Allmusic 2013b.
  38. ^ White 2003, p. 264.
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Sources

External links

Don't Knock the Rock

Don't Knock the Rock is a 1956 American musical film starring Alan Dale. Directed by Fred F. Sears, the film also features performances by Bill Haley & His Comets, Little Richard, The Treniers, and Dave Appell and the Applejacks.

The title of the film comes from one of Haley's hit singles of 1956. The Haley recording is played over the opening credits, but it is Alan Dale who performs the number in the film. Indeed, while Haley and his band are the top-billed performers in the movie, the story in fact focuses on Dale's character.

Earl Palmer

Earl Cyril Palmer (October 25, 1924 – September 19, 2008) was an American rock-and-roll and rhythm-and-blues drummer. He is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.Palmer played on many recordings, including Little Richard's first several albums and many other well-known rock-and-roll records. According to one obituary, "his list of credits read like a Who's Who of American popular music of the last 60 years."

Good Golly, Miss Molly

"Good Golly, Miss Molly" is a hit rock 'n' roll song first recorded in 1956 by the American musician Little Richard and released in January 1958 as Specialty single 624 and next in July 1958 on Little Richard.

The song, a jump blues, was written by John Marascalco and producer Robert "Bumps" Blackwell. Although it was first recorded by Little Richard, Blackwell produced another version by The Valiants, who imitated the fast first version recorded by Little Richard, not released at this time. Although the Valiants' version was released first (in 1957), Little Richard had the hit, reaching #4. Like all his early hits, it quickly became a rock 'n' roll standard and has subsequently been recorded by hundreds of artists. The song is ranked #94 on the Rolling Stone magazine's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Goodnight, Irene

"Goodnight, Irene" or "Irene, Goodnight," is a 20th-century American folk standard, written in 3/4 time, first recorded by American blues musician Huddie 'Lead Belly' Ledbetter in 1933.

The lyrics tell of the singer's troubled past with his love, Irene, and express his sadness and frustration. Several verses refer explicitly to suicidal fantasies, most famously in the line "sometimes I take a great notion to jump in the river and drown," which was the inspiration for the 1964 Ken Kesey novel Sometimes a Great Notion and a song of the same name from John Mellencamp's 1989 album, Big Daddy, itself strongly informed by traditional American folk music.

Here's Little Richard

Here's Little Richard is the debut album from Little Richard, released on March 1957. He had scored six Top 40 hits the previous year, some of which were included on this recording. It was his highest charting album, at 13 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. The album contained two of Richard's biggest hits, "Long Tall Sally", which reached No. 6, and "Jenny, Jenny", which reached No. 10 in the U.S. Pop chart.

Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey!

The song "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey", also known as "Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey! (Goin' Back to Birmingham)", was written by Little Richard and recorded in May 9, 1956 at J&M Studio, New Orleans, Louisiana (supervised by Bumps Blackwell).

Kansas City (Leiber and Stoller song)

"Kansas City" is a rhythm and blues song written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller in 1952. First recorded by Little Willie Littlefield the same year, the song later became a #1 hit when it was recorded by Wilbert Harrison in 1959. "Kansas City" became one of Leiber and Stoller's "most recorded tunes, with more than three hundred versions," with several appearing in the R&B and pop record charts.

Keep A-Knockin'

"Keep A-Knockin' (But You Can't Come In)" is a popular song that has been recorded by a variety of musicians over the years. The lyrics concern a lover at the door who won't be admitted—in some versions because someone else is already there, but in most others because the knocking lover has behaved badly.

Early versions are sometimes credited to Perry Bradford and J. Mayo Williams. Variations were recorded by James "Boodle It" Wiggins in 1928, Lil Johnson in 1935, Milton Brown in 1936 and Louis Jordan in 1939. A similar lyrical theme appears in "Open the Door, Richard" from 1946, but from the viewpoint of the one knocking.

In 1957, when Little Richard recorded it as an uptempo rock and roll song "Keep A-Knockin'" reached number two on the U.S. R&B charts and number eight on the U.S. pop charts. His version is usually credited to Penniman (Richard's legal name), Williams, and Mays. Little Richard played the song on an episode of Full House. He recorded a version of the song with different lyrics as an introduction for the NBC show Friday Night Videos. The song was also featured in the theatrical trailer for Home Alone. The song was used in the film Christine when Dennis is trying to break into the car, but is then scared off by the song that suddenly starts playing from the car radio.

Larry Williams

Lawrence Eugene Williams (May 10, 1935 – January 7, 1980) was an American rhythm and blues and rock and roll singer, songwriter, producer, and pianist from New Orleans, Louisiana. Williams is best known for writing and recording some rock and roll classics from 1957 to 1959 for Specialty Records, including "Bony Moronie", "Short Fat Fannie", "Slow Down", "Dizzy, Miss Lizzy" (1958), "Bad Boy" and "She Said Yeah" (1959). John Lennon was a fan, and The Beatles and several other British Invasion groups recorded several of his songs.

Williams' life mixed tremendous success with violence and drug addiction. He was a longtime friend of Little Richard.

Little Richard (film)

Little Richard is a 2000 biographical NBC television film written by Bill Kerby and Daniel Taplitz and directed by Robert Townsend. Based on the 1984 book, Quasar of Rock: The Life and Times of Little Richard, it chronicles the rise of American musical icon Little Richard from his poor upbringing in Macon, Georgia to achieving superstardom as one of the pioneers of rock and roll music and his conflicts between his religion and secular lifestyle, which leads to an early retirement following a 1957 tour of Australia, and later a comeback to secular performing during a concert in London in 1962.

The cast includes Leon as Little Richard Penniman, Jenifer Lewis as Richard's mother Leva Mae, or as she's listed in the movie credits, Muh Penniman, Carl Lumbly as Richard's stern father, Charles "Bud" Penniman, Tamala Jones as Richard's girlfriend Lucille (actually Audrey Robinson), Garrett Morris as Richard's preacher Carl Rainey and Mel Jackson as legendary producer Robert "Bumps" Blackwell.

For his role as Penniman, Leon earned nominations for Best Actor in the Black Reel Awards and the NAACP Image Awards.

Long Tall Sally

"Long Tall Sally" is a rock and roll 12-bar blues song written by Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, Enotris Johnson, and Little Richard; recorded by Little Richard; and released in March 1956 on the Specialty Records label.

The flip side was "Slippin' and Slidin'". Both songs were subsequently released in the LP Here's Little Richard (Specialty, March 1957). The single reached number one on the Billboard rhythm and blues chart, staying at the top for six of 19 weeks, while peaking at number six on the pop chart. It received the Cash Box Triple Crown Award in 1956. The song as sung by Little Richard is #55 on Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.It became one of the singer's best-known hits and has become a rock and roll standard covered by hundreds of artists, including the Beatles and Elvis Presley.

The song was originally called "The Thing", recorded in New Orleans by Little Richard. Penniman's track was No. 45 on Billboard's

year-end singles of 1956.

Lucille (Little Richard song)

"Lucille" is a 1957 rock and roll song originally recorded by American musician Little Richard. Released on Specialty Records in February 1957, the single reached number 1 on the Billboard R&B chart, 21 on the US pop chart, and number 10 on the UK chart. It was composed by Albert Collins (not to be confused with the blues guitarist of the same name) and Little Richard. First pressings of Specialty 78rpm credit Collins as the sole writer. Little Richard bought half of the song's rights while Collins was in Louisiana State prison (Angola).

The song foreshadowed the rhythmic feel of 1960s rock music in several ways, including its heavy bassline and slower tempo. The scene-setting sections also feature stop-time breaks and no change in harmony, and it has a darker sound because most of the instruments use a low register.Little Richard sang and played piano on his recording, backed by a band consisting of Lee Allen (tenor saxophone), Alvin "Red" Tyler (baritone sax), Roy Montrell (guitar), Frank Fields (bass), and Earl Palmer (drums).

Rip It Up (Little Richard song)

"Rip It Up" is a song written by Robert Blackwell and John Marascalco. It was first released by Little Richard in June 1956. Bill Haley and his Comets also released a recording of the song that year. The Little Richard version hit number one on the R&B Best Sellers chart for two weeks and peaked at number 17 on the pop chart. The Bill Haley and the Comets recording reached number 25 on the Billboard pop singles chart and number four in the UK. Bill Haley and the Comets also performed their version of the song in the 1956 film Don't Knock the Rock, in which Little Richard also appeared.

Robert Blackwell

Robert Alexander "Bumps" Blackwell (May 23, 1918 – March 9, 1985) was an American bandleader, songwriter, arranger, and record producer, best known for his work overseeing the early hits of Little Richard, as well as grooming Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Ernestine Anderson, Lloyd Price, Sam Cooke, Herb Alpert, Larry Williams, and Sly and the Family Stone at the start of their music careers.

Send Me Some Lovin'

"Send Me Some Lovin'" is a 1957 rock and roll standard recorded by Little Richard. John S. Marascalso co-wrote "Send Me Some Lovin'" with Leo Price.

Slippin' and Slidin'

"Slippin' and Slidin' (Peepin' and Hidin')" is a R&B/rock 'n' roll song performed by Little Richard. The song is credited to Little Richard, Edwin Bocage (Eddie Bo), Al Collins, and James Smith.Al Collins first recorded "I Got the Blues for You" in 1955. Eddie Bo wrote new lyrics and adapted the song in 1956 under the name "I'm Wise". Bo's recording was released by the Apollo label. Little Richard recorded it the same year, and changed the title to "Slippin' and Slidin'". His version is on his first album, Here's Little Richard. He recorded several versions for Specialty until the February, 1956 version was chosen as the B-side to "Long Tall Sally". Richard re-recorded the song for Vee Jay in 1964 and Modern in 1965 (live). Another version appeared on a Modern single, #1030, believed to be a studio leftover from Vee Jay.

"Slippin' and Slidin'" was the title of a song written by Maxwell Davis and performed by Calvin Boze and His All Stars, and released in May 1951 by Aladdin Records (3086). The song was described as "an engaging set of novelty lyrics, while combo puts down a swingy, medium shuffle". Over a year earlier, this song had been recorded by Gene Phillips - Jack McVea, and released on Modern (20-733). It was a fast blues with Phillips delivering in a Louis Jordan-like style. A version by J. Lewis and Trio was released on Atlantic (927) in early 1951.

Sweet Toronto

Sweet Toronto (sometimes referred as Sweet Toronto Peace Festival) is a documentary by D.A. Pennebaker of the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival, a one-day festival held September 13, 1969 at Varsity Stadium on the campus of the University of Toronto and attended by some 20,000 persons. The event was produced by John Brower and Ken Walker. John Lennon played as part of the Plastic Ono Band, whose members also included Yoko Ono, Klaus Voorman, Alan White, and Eric Clapton. (Their set was released as the album Live Peace in Toronto 1969.) The video also features a selection of other acts: Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, and Bo Diddley. The actual concert lasted twelve hours, but Pennebaker's documentary focuses mainly on the final hours of the concert. At the time of the performance Yoko Ono's popularity was sufficiently low that the audience booed and left the Plastic Ono Band performance. There was a similar response from film reviewers at the time. The performances "and this film have grown in interest and watchability since that time, particularly given the rarity of such thorough documentation of these key performers' work in concert."The film is available on DVD from Shout! Factory, under the name John Lennon and the Plastic Ono Band: Live in Toronto.

Tutti Frutti (song)

"Tutti Frutti" (meaning "all fruits" in Italian) is a song written by Little Richard along with Dorothy LaBostrie that was recorded in 1955 and became his first major hit record. With its opening cry of "A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bom-bom!" (a verbal rendition of a drum pattern that Little Richard had imagined) and its hard-driving sound and wild lyrics, it became not only a model for many future Little Richard songs, but also a model for rock and roll itself. The song introduced several of rock music's most characteristic musical features, including its loud volume and vocal style emphasizing power, and its distinctive beat and rhythm.In 2007, an eclectic panel of renowned recording artists voted "Tutti Frutti" No. 1 on Mojo's The Top 100 Records That Changed The World, hailing the recording as "the sound of the birth of rock and roll." In 2010, the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry added the recording to its registry, claiming the "unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music". In April 2012, Rolling Stone magazine declared that the song "still contains what has to be considered the most inspired rock lyric ever recorded: 'A wop bop alu bop, a wop bam boom!' "

Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On

"Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (sometimes rendered "Whole Lot of Shakin' Going On") is a song written by Dave "Curlee" Williams and usually credited to him and James Faye "Roy" Hall. The song was first recorded by Big Maybelle, though the best-known version is the 1957 rock and roll/rockabilly version by Jerry Lee Lewis.

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