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One of twelve children, Little Richard says he "came from a family where my people didn't like rhythm and blues. Bing Crosby — 'Pennies from Heaven' — Ella Fitzgerald, was all I heard." (Hamm 1979, p.391) He learned gospel music in Pentecostal churches of the U.S. South.
Little Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman, December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia) is an American singer, songwriter, and pianist, and an early pioneer of rock and roll.
His early recording career in the 1950s was a mix of blues music and rhythm and blues, heavily steeped in gospel music, but with a driving beat and breathlessly delivered lyrics that marked a decidedly new kind of music.
Richard Penniman had begun his career singing with Johnny Otis, but had little success until he sent a demo tape to Specialty Records in 1955, and met for a recording session in New Orleans. During a break in that session, Richard began singing an impromptu recital of "Tutti Frutti", an obscene, lusty song he had been singing on stage. The lyrics were changed from "Tutti-frutti loose booty" to "Tutti frutti all rooty" because record producer Bumps Blackwell felt they were over the line. (Tutti-frutti was a slang term meaning a "gay male" and booty means "buttocks").
The song, with its introductory "Womp-bomp-a-loom-op-a-womp-bam-boom!" became the model for many future Little Richard songs, with its driving piano, saxophone solo by Lee Allen and its unrelenting beat. In the next few years, Richard had several more hits, including "Long Tall Sally", "Slippin' and Slidin'", "Jenny, Jenny" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly". His frantic performing style can be seen in such period films as Don't Knock the Rock (1956) and The Girl Can't Help It (1956), for which he sang the title song, written by Bobby Troup.
Little Richard at the Piano
Despite the raw sound of his music, the singles were carefully put together, as documented on the three-volume album The Specialty Sessions, which include many false starts and variations. As an example of Richard's craftsmanship, he and Blackwell rehearsed the line from "Long Tall Sally", "He saw Aunt Mary coming and he ducked back in the alley" for a full day until he achieved machine-gun precision.
Little Richard quit the music business suddenly in 1957, while in the middle of an Australian tour; he reportedly renounced his rock and roll lifestyle, removed four diamond rings worth $8,000 from his fingers and threw them into Sydney's Hunter River. Richard then enrolled in a Christian university in Alabama and became a Pentecostal minister. While Specialty Records released a few new songs based on past sessions, Richard did little musically, releasing some gospel songs in the early 1960s.
In 1962, Little Richard returned with an enthusiastically received tour of the United Kingdom. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, long-time fans, supported him. Richard took the Beatles with him on a tour of Hamburg, and they performed with him at the Star Club. The Rolling Stones opened for Richard and the Everly Brothers before they ever had a recording contract.
Since then, Little Richard has had a periodic career in movies, as well as releasing occasional singles and enduring as one of the legendary flamboyant pioneers of rock and roll. In 1986, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened, Little Richard was among the first inductees.
He appeared in the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills in 1986 and scored his first major hit in years with "Great Gosh-a-Mighty!" which led to a resurgence in popularity. A made-for-TV film, Little Richard (2000) starred Leon in the title role.
Little Richard was famously quoted as once saying "Rock n Roll is evil, because Rock n Roll makes you take drugs, and drugs turn you into a homosexual." This is after Richard's controversial renunciation of his own homosexuality, which some attribute to the pressures of public scrutiny and the prevalence of homophobia among black communities. His homegrown views on religion may have also influenced this, as he later became a more conservative and devoted his life to evangelical Christianity.
∙ 1956 — Cast a Long Shadow
∙ 1957 — Little Richard, Vol. 1
∙ 1957 — Little Richard, Vol. 2
∙ 1957 — Little Richard, Vol. 3
∙ 1957 — Here's Little Richard
∙ 1959 — The Fabulous Little Richard
∙ 1960 — Clap Your Hands
∙ 1960 — Pray Along with Little Richard, Vol. 1
∙ 1960 — Pray Along with Little Richard, Vol. 2
∙ 1962 — King of the Gospel Singers
∙ 1963 — Sings Spirituals
∙ 1964 — Sings the Gospel
∙ 1965 — Little Richard Is Back
∙ 1965 — The Wild and Frantic Little Richard
∙ 1967 — The Explosive Little Richard
∙ 1967 — Rock N Roll Forever
∙ 1969 — Good Golly Miss Molly
∙ 1969 — Little Richard
∙ 1969 — Right Now
∙ 1970 — Rock Hard Rock Heavy
∙ 1970 — Little Richard
∙ 1970 — Well Alright!
∙ 1971 — Mr. Big
∙ 1971 — The Rill Thing
∙ 1971 — The Second Coming
∙ 1972 — Dollars
∙ 1972 — The Original
∙ 1972 — You Cant Keep a Good Man Down
∙ 1973 — Rip It Up
∙ 1974 — Talkin' 'Bout Soul
∙ 1974 — Recorded Live
∙ 1975 — Keep a Knockin'
∙ 1976 — Sings
∙ 1976 — Little Richard Live
∙ 1977 — Now
∙ 1988 — Lucille
∙ 1992 — Shake It All About
1996 — Shag on Down by the Union Hall
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