Little Richard


Richard Wayne Penniman, known as Little Richard, was born on December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia into a family of twelve children. As a child, he sang gospel and learned piano growing up, however was later kicked out of his own home, for his musical interests were supposedly not supported. However, it was later revealed that it was because of his homosexuality. Little Richard was taken in by a white family, in which he performed for the first time at their nightclub. At first, Little Richard only performed blues, touring small nightclubs and being unsuccessful with his recordings to music record companies.

Known as the “architect of rock and roll,” Little Richard laid the foundation for rock and roll with his energetic piano playing and electrifying stage presence complemented with an unique raspy tone.

"I was what you called back in that day a freak. I was flamboyant in every direction.”

Little Richard exploded with popularity through the song, “Tutti Frutti,” which he performed in New Orleans, appealing to both black and white audiences. However, a white artist, Pat Boone, covered both "Tutti Frutti," and "Long Tall Sally," and reached #12 on national pop charts while Little Richard's version ran behind at #17. In an interview with Little Richard, he mentions being extremely upset that Pat Boone took his song at first, but later was appreciative for Pat spread his song to a more global audience.

“I wanted to be famous and here’s this man that came and took my song. And not only did he take ‘Tutti Frutti’ but he took ‘Long Tall Sally.’"

With hits like “Tutti Frutti,” which reached number 2 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1956, and “Long Tall Sally,” he defined rock and roll sound. By mixing boogie-woogie rhythm and blues, Little Richard laid the foundation for rock and roll. In 1986, he was among the first ten inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Why is Little Richard Important?

Little Richard's vibrant stage presence and electrifying musical composition is what makes him so important to the history of Rock N Roll. He has been creditied by other legendary musicians, like James Brown, with being the first to effectively incorporate funk into the rock n roll sound. Like Chuck Beryr introduced the potential of guitar to rock n roll, Little Richard introduced the potential of piano to rock n roll. He wore makeup and sequined clothing on stage; he created the idea of flamboyancy in the genre. 

"I had heard so much about the audience reaction that I thought there must be some exaggeration. But it was all true. He drove the whole house into a complete frenzy. There's no single phrase to describe his hold on the audience. I couldn't believe the power of Little Richard on stage."

- Mick Jagger