Little Richard

Little Richard

Infobox musical artist
Name = Little Richard|

Img_capt=Little Richard performing in Austin, Texas in March, 2007
Img_size =
Background = solo_singer
Birth_name = Richard Wayne Penniman
Alias = The Georgia Peach
Born = birth date and age|1932|12|5

Origin = Macon, Georgia, U.S.
Instrument = Vocals, piano, keyboards
Genre = Rhythm & blues, rock & roll, soul, gospel
Years_active = 1951 - present
Label=Atlantic, Bell, Brunswick, Coral, Critique, Elektra, End, Guest Star, Kent, Lost-Nite, Mainstream, Manticore, MCA, Mercury, Modern, Okeh, Peacock, RCA Victor, Reprise, Specialty, Vee Jay, Warner Bros., WTGRev. Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932), better known by the stage name Little Richard, is an American singer, songwriter and pianist.

A key figure in the transition from rhythm & blues to rock & roll in the 1950s, Penniman's reputation rests on a string of groundbreaking hit singles from 1955 through 1957, such as "Tutti Frutti", "Lucille" and "Long Tall Sally", which helped lay the foundation for rock and roll music,cite web |url= |title=Little Richard |work=Inductees|publisher=Rock and Roll Hall of Fame] and influenced generations of rhythm & blues, rock and soul music artists. Little Richard's injection of funk during this period, via his saxophone-studded mid-1950s road band, The Upsetters, also influenced the development of that genre of music. He was subsequently honored by being one of seven of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was one of only four of these honorees (along with Ray Charles, James Brown, and Fats Domino) to also receive the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award.

Little Richard's early work was a mix of boogie-woogie, rhythm & blues and gospel music, but with a heavily accentuated back-beat, funky saxophone grooves and raspy shouted vocals, moans, screams, and other emotive inflections that marked a new kind of music. In 1957, while at the height of stardom, he became a born-again Christian, enrolled in and attended Bible college, and withdrew from recording and performing secular music.White, Charles. (2003). "The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography." Omnibus Press.] page number Claiming he was called to be an evangelist, he has since devoted large segments of his life to this calling.White (2003).] page number

Little Richard has earned wide praise from many other performers. James Brown called Little Richard his idol Smokey Robinson said Penniman's music was "the start of that driving, funky, never let up rock 'n' roll;", while Dick Clark described his music as "the model for almost every rock and roll performer of the '50s and years thereafter."Fact|date=September 2008 Ray Charles asserted that Little Richard was "the man that started a kind of music that set the pace for a lot of what's happening today."Fact|date=September 2008 In his high school year book, Bob Dylan declared that his ambition was "to join the band of Little Richard." [cite book|last=Shelton|first=Robert |title=No Direction Home: The Life and Music of Bob Dylan|publisher=Da Capo Press|date=2003|pages=39|isbn=0-306-81287-8] In 1969, Elvis Presley told Little Richard, "Your music has inspired me - you are the greatest."White (2003), p. 227] Otis Redding, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Fogerty, Dick Dale, Bob Seger, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, and numerous other rock & roll icons have also cited Little Richard as being one of their first major influences. He was chosen as the eighth greatest artist of all time by "Rolling Stone" magazine. [ [ The Immortals: The First Fifty : Rolling Stone ] ]


Early life

Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, the son of Leva Mae (née Stewart) and Charles "Bud" Penniman, who was a bootlegger. He grew up in a religious family, amid poverty and racism, and it was singing that made his family feel closer to God. His family had a group called the Penniman Singers, who would go around and sing in local churches, and enter contests with other singing families. His siblings called him 'War Hawk' because of his loud, screaming singing voice. His paternal grandfather, Walter Penniman, was a preacher, and his father's family were members of the Foundation Templar African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Macon, Georgia. Richard's maternal grandmother was a member of the Holiness Temple Baptist Church, also in Macon. Richard regularly attended the New Hope Baptist Church in Macon, where his mother was a member. However, of all the churches he frequented, Richard's favorite were the Pentecostal churches because of the music and the fun he and his friends would have doing the holy dance and talking in tongues along with members of the congregation. When he was as young as ten, he would go around as a healer, singing gospel songs and touching people, who would testify that they felt better after he ministered to them. Inspired by Brother Joe May, a singing evangelist known as 'The Thunderbolt of the West', Richard wanted to become a preacher. It was in and through the church where Richard's life in music all began.White (2003), p. 15-17.]

Nearly all of Richard Penniman's dramatic phrasing and swift vocal turns are derived from Black Gospel artists of the 1930s and 1940s. He referred to Sister Rosetta Tharpe as his favorite singer when he was a child. She had invited him to sing a song with her onstage at the Macon City Auditorium in 1945, after hearing him sing before the concert. The crowd applauded and cheered and she paid him more money than he had ever seen after the show.White (2003), p. 17.] He was also heavily influenced by Marion Williams, from whom he got the trademark "whoooo" in his vocal, Mahalia Jackson and Brother Joe May.White (2003), p. 16 - 18, p. 103.] He was heavily influenced in appearance (hair, clothing, shoes, makeup, etc.) and sound by late 1940s gospel-style, jump blues shouter Billy Wright, who was known as the 'Prince of the Blues'.White (2003), p. 25.]

One of Penniman's main influences on his piano-playing was Esquerita (Eskew Reeder Jr.), who demonstrated to Penniman how to play high notes without compromising bass. Penniman met Esquerita when he traveled through Macon with a preacher named Sister Rosa. Another influence was Brother Joe May. Penniman explained, "I used to get in a room and try to make my piano sound just like him. He had so much energy." May generated energy by moving from a subtle whisper to a thunderous tenor and back in a four-bar phrase.

He learned to mix ministerial qualities with theatrics by watching the traveling medicine shows that rolled through his native Macon. Colorful medicine men would wear lavish capes, robes and turbans, all of which left an impression on Penniman.


In 1951, Penniman won a talent show in Atlanta, which resulted in a recording contract with RCA. In 1952, Penniman's father was murdered. After this, he returned to Macon and performed blues and boogie-woogie music at the "Tick Tock Club" in the evenings. He went on to record for Peacock Records in HoustonNite, Norm N. "Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock n' Roll (The Solid Gold Years)". Thomas Y. Crowell (1974), p. 390. ISBN 0-690-00583-0.] from 1951 to 1955. In early 1955, he recorded his last two singles for Peacock backed by the Johnny Otis Trio (one of the songs, "Little Richard's Boogie", offers a glimmer of the style that later made him famous). These records sold poorly and Penniman had little success until he sent a demo tape to Specialty Records on February 17, 1955. Specialty's owner, Art Rupe, purchased Richard's contract from Peacock and placed Richard's career in the hands of A&R man Robert "Bumps" Blackwell. Blackwell had nurtured and groomed Ray Charles (then known as R.C. Robinson) and Quincy Jones at the start of their careers in the music business.

Blackwell had intended to pit Little Richard against Ray Charles and B.B. King by having him record blues tracks. He arranged for a recording session at Cosimo Matassa's recording studio in New Orleans in the late summer of 1955, when, during a break, Penniman began singing an impromptu recital of "Tutti Frutti", in his raspy, shouted vocal style, while pounding out a boogie-woogie based rhythm on the piano. Blackwell, who knew a hit when he heard one, was knocked out and had Little Richard record the song. However, in order to make it commercially acceptable, he had Little Richard's lyrics changed from "tutti-frutti, loose booty" to "tutti frutti, aw rooty." [ [ What's That Sound? • W. W. Norton and Company, Inc ] ] The song was released on Specialty in late 1955, and became the first of Richard's many hits.

The song, with Little Richard shouting its unique introductory "A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!", was the start of a rapid succession of Little Richard hit songs, characterized by a driving piano, boogie-woogie bass, funky saxophone arrangements, and screams before sax solos performed by Lee Allen, such as "Long Tall Sally", "Lucille", "Rip It Up", "The Girl Can't Help It", "Slippin' and Slidin'", "Jenny, Jenny", "Good Golly, Miss Molly", and "Keep A-Knockin'". His performing style can be seen in such period films as "Don't Knock the Rock" (1956) and "The Girl Can't Help It" (also 1956), for which he sang the title song.

In the commercial fashion of the day, several of his early hits were re-recorded in other styles. Little Richard's first national success, "Tutti Frutti", was covered by Pat Boone, whose version outdid the source record, #12 to #17. Boone also released a version of "Long Tall Sally" with slightly bowdlerized lyrics. But this time, the Little Richard original outperformed it on the Billboard charts, #6 to #8. Bill Haley tackled Little Richard's third major hit, "Rip It Up", but again, Little Richard prevailed. With the record-buying public's preference established, Little Richard's subsequent releases did not face the same chart competition.

Then, suddenly, when at the top of the music world, Little Richard, fearing his own damnation, abandoned rock and roll music to become a born-again Christian, in which he was called to be an evangelist. Although his secular music career in the 1950s was rather brief, his impact on twentieth and twenty-first century music was incalculable and arguably unparalleled.

While Little Richard's retreat to the faith in which he was groomed as a child resulted in an abrupt halt to the recording style that made him famous and changed the world of music, he continued in and out of rock & roll and the ministry into the twenty-first century. He recorded only Gospel music after his spiritual conversion from 1957 to the early 1960s, claiming at the time that rock music was of the devil and that it was not possible to be a rocker and please God at the same time. He was married in 1959.


In 1963, with the Beatles as his opening act, on a tour of parts of Europe, Little Richard backslid from the ministry. He returned to recording and performing secular material. In the autumn of 1963 he toured England with a then little-known band called The Rolling Stones. He was divorced in 1964; and that same year he brought a fledgling Jimi Hendrix into his band, who was then known as Maurice James. Soon to become world famous as Jimi Hendrix, he toured with Little Richard and played on at least a dozen Little Richard tracks between the spring of 1964 and 1965. In 1966, Hendrix was quoted as saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice.".White (2003), p. 125-128, 131-132, 163, 228] Little Richard recorded funky soul music in the mid-1960s with Hendrix jumping in some sessions, along with Johnny Guitar Watson on guitar and his old friend from the mid-1950s, Larry Williams as producer at the Okeh Club in Hollywood and London.White (2003), p. 133, 253-255]


Little Richard had minor hits in the 1960s and 1970s, although not with the greater success of his 1950s recordings. In 1977, following the death of a nephew that he loved as a son, along with a violent clash with his long-time friend Larry Williams over a drug debt,White (2003), p. 186] Little Richard repented for his wayward living and returned to evangelism. He then recorded more gospel music and remained fully in the ministry until the mid-1980s. He also represented Memorial Bibles International and sold their Black Heritage Bible, which highlighted the many black people in the Bible. In many sermons during this period, he once again proclaimed that it was not possible to perform rock and serve God at the same time.


In the mid-1980s, the world's attention was refocused on Little Richard, following the release of Charles White's authorized biography "The Life and Times of Little Richard", in which he candidly explains his struggles with and repentance from substance abuse and homosexuality. At the same time, the new Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honored Little Richard as one of the first inductees. This resulted in a show business comeback for Little Richard.

In 1986, Little Richard finally reconciled his role as a minister and as a rock & roll artist. He recorded an album of inspirational songs for Warner Brother Records that he called "message music" and "messages in rhythm." He had his old friend Billy Preston help him write a song with spiritual lyrics that sounded like rock & roll for the soundtrack of the motion picture "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" in which he also co-starred. The result was "Great Gosh A'Mighty", which became a hit; he also received critical acclaim for his acting performance.Fact|date=September 2008

He made a commitment to his mother before she died that he would remain a Christian, saying that he would "stay with the Lord and just travel around." He began performing his old classic rock & roll hits in the late 1980s, but continued to evangelize by performing some gospel material in his original rocking style, testifying to people on and off-stage, distributing a born-again Christian booklet, and reminding people of God's love for them on his photographs.Fact|date=September 2008

1990s - 2000s

Through the remainder of the 1980s, 1990s and into the twenty-first century, Little Richard has remained a popular guest on television, in music videos, commercials, movies and as a recording artist. He has contributed new recordings to movie soundtracks (eg "Twins", "Casper the Friendly Ghost", "Why Do Fools Fall in Love") and wrote and performed a song for the 2001 film "The Trumpet of the Swan". He also sang background vocals on the U2 / BB King hit song "When Love Comes to Town," and in the extended "Live From The Kingdom Mix" of the track he preaches as well, sometimes amid funky saxophone playing. Penniman appeared on Living Colour's "Elvis Is Dead", and also recorded new tracks for tribute albums, such as "Folkways: A Vision Shared" ("The Rock Island Line", backed by Fishbone) (1989) and "Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to Johnny Cash" ("Get Rhythm") (2002).

He also recorded duets in the 1990s with Jon Bon Jovi, Hank Williams Jr., Living Colour, Elton John, Tanya Tucker, Solomon Burke, and in 2006 with Jerry Lee Lewis, in which they covered the Little Richard-influenced, early 1960s, hit Beatles track "I Saw Her Standing There". He also recently headlined the University of Texas event "40 Acres Fest". [ [ 40 Acres Fest to rock UT campus for its 15th year - Top Stories ] ]

In the 1990s, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) catapulted Macon, Georgia wrestler Marc Mero to fame under the ring name "Johnny B. Badd" by promoting him as a Little Richard look-alike.cite web|url=|author=Kapur, B.|title=TNA Turning Point a success|publisher=Canadian Online Explorer|accessmonthday=July 6|accessyear=2007|date=December 6, 2004] [Foley, M. (2000) (p.202)]

In 1994, Penniman was featured on an episode of "Full House" entitled "Too Little Richard Too Late". He played himself in the 1999 film, "Mystery, Alaska", singing the "Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada" before a pond hockey game between the local team and the New York Rangers.

In 2000, Robert Townsend directed a biopic about Little Ricard's life from childhood to his early 30's (circa 1962). Leon Robinson received an Emmy Award nomination for his outstanding performance in the starring role.

In 2006, Penniman was a judge on "Celebrity Duets" on FOX. In 2006/2007, he was featured in a Geico advertisement, wherein he uses his signature "whoop" to denote the joy he would receive while consuming "mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce" at a Thanksgiving dinner. In 2007, his song "All Around The World" was featured in a Cravendale advertisement for an animation by PicPic. In 2007, he also performed at the Capitol Fourth - a July 4 celebration (televised live on PBS) in front of the White House in Washington D.C. In 2001, he performed at the July 4 music event in Dublin, Ohio.

On July 25, 2007, he made an appearance on the ABC show "The Next Best Thing". [cite news|url=|title=Impersonators vie to become 'The Next Best Thing'|last=Lee|first=Luaine |date=2007-05-30|publisher="Ventura County Star"|accessdate=2008-10-07] On November 22, 2007, he headlined the halftime show for the Thanksgiving football game of Arizona State University vs. the University of Southern California at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Arizona. It was broadcast on ESPN. [cite web|url=|title=Little Richard to Replace Chuck Berry at Thanksgiving Halftime Performance|date=2007-09-07||accessdate=2008-10-07] On February 10, 2008, he made an appearance at the 50th Grammy Awards, performing "Good Golly, Miss Molly" with Jerry Lee Lewis and John Fogerty. [cite web|url=,28804,1710840_1710850_1710859,00.html|title=The 50th Annual Grammy Awards:Memorable Moments|last=Tyrangiel|first=Josh ||accessdate=2008-10-07]

In June 2008, Little Richard made a cameo appearance on the CBS daytime drama, "The Young and the Restless" as an ordained piano-playing minister marrying a doubting Gloria and Jeff Bardwell for the second time. [cite web|url=|title=Little Richard Weds Jeff and Gloria!||accessdate=2008-10-07]


*In 1956, "Cashbox" awarded Little Richard the Cashbox Triple Crown Award for his second hit single "Long Tall Sally".
*In 1986, Little Richard was one of the first group of recording artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. []
*In 1990, Little Richard was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. [ [ Walk of Fame Directory ] ]
*In 1993, he then received a Honorary Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. [ [ ] ]
*In 1994, Little Richard was the fourth recording artist (the others being Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and James Brown) to be recognized with the Lifetime Achievement Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. [ [ Rhythm and Blues Foundation Website ] ]
*In 1995, he received two Keys to the City of Providence, Rhode Island; one was awarded spontaneously, on stage, by Mayor Vincent "Buddy" Cianci
*In 1997, he received the American Music Award of Merit.
*In 2002, BMI, during the 50th Annual BMI Pop Awards celebration, Little Richard, along with Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry, were awarded the first BMI Icon Awards in recognition of their “unique and indelible influence on generations of music makers.” [ [ | BMI Salutes Rock ‘N Roll Past and Present at 50th Annual Pop Awards ] ] The same year, he was inducted into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Hall of Fame for having "distinguished himself as not only an unparalleled musical genius, but also as a unique and innovative performing artist—fusing pure vocal talent with exhilarating showmanship." [ [ - Today's Buzz stories: - February 6, 2002 ] ]
*In 2003, Little Richard was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. [ [ Songwriters Hall of Fame ] ]
*In 2004, "Rolling Stone" ranked Little Richard #8 on their list of the [ 100 Greatest Artists of All Time] . [ [ The Greatest Artists of All Time: Little Richard] ]
*In 2006, Little Richard was inducted into the Apollo Theater Legends Hall of Fame, at the same time as Ella Fitzgerald (who was one of the first winners of 'Amateur Night at the Apollo' in 1934) and Gladys Knight & the Pips.
*In 2007, Little Richard's 1955 original hit "Tutti Frutti" topped "Mojo"'s poll of The Top 100 Records That Changed The World.


ee also

*Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
*Honorific titles in popular music


External links

* [ Little Richard biography at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame]
* [ Little Richard biography at the Encyclopaedia Britannica]
* [ Little Richard in Rolling Stones Top 10 Artists of all Time]
* [ Little Richard MySpace Website with testimonials, bio, awards, spiritual info.]
* [ Little Richard Tribute] at
* [ Little Richard News site]
* [ Little Richard biography with pictures]
* [ Little Richard at London Rock 'n' Roll Festival, November 20th, 2008]
* [ Album reviews]
* [ "Little Richard" Penniman] (entry in the New Georgia Encyclopedia)

NAME= Little, Richard
ALTERNATIVE NAMES= Penniman, Richard Wayne
SHORT DESCRIPTION= Singer-songwriter, musician
DATE OF BIRTH= December 5, 1932
PLACE OF BIRTH= Macon, Georgia, U.S.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Little Richard — auf dem Forty Acres Festival der Universität Texas 2007 Little Richard (* 5. Dezember 1932 als Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia) ist ein amerikanischer Rock ’n’ Roll Sänger, Pianist, Songwriter und Schauspieler. Der afroamerikanische… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Little Richard — en una presentación en Texas, USA en 2007 Datos generales Nombre real …   Wikipedia Español

  • Little Richard — Little Richard, nombre artístico de Richard Wayne Penniman. Músico estadounidense, pionero del rock and roll. Nacido el 5 de diciembre de 1935 en Macon, Georgia, fue el tercero de doce hijos. Proveniente de una familia humilde. Pasó su infancia… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Little Richard —   [ lɪtl rɪtʃəd], eigentlich Richard Wayne Penniman [ penɪmæn], amerikanischer Rockmusiker (Gesang und Klavier), * Macon (Georgia) 5. 12. 1932; wurde mit exzentrischen Bühnenshows und seinem eigenwilligen Scatgesangsstil (»A wop bop a loo bop a… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Little Richard — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Richard. Little Richard …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Little Richard — О музыканте см. статью Литл Ричард. Little Richard …   Википедия

  • Little Richard — (1935– ) a US singer of early rock and roll who also played the piano. He was born Richard Wayne Penniman and was known for his wild, noisy style. His hits included Tutti Frutti (1956), Lucille (1957) and Good Golly, Miss Molly (1957). He stopped …   Universalium

  • Little Richard — Richard Penniman …   Eponyms, nicknames, and geographical games

  • Little Richard — /lɪtl ˈrɪtʃəd/ (say litl richuhd) noun (Richard Wayne Penniman), born 1935, US rock n roll singer, composer and pianist …   Australian English dictionary

  • Little Richard (Album) — Little Richard Studioalbum von Little Richard Veröffentlichung 1958 Aufnahme Juni 1956 bis Oktober 1957 Label …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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