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Little Richard
Little Richard in 2007 (cropped).jpg
Little Richard in 2007
Background information
Birth name Richard Wayne Penniman
Born (1932-12-05)December 5, 1932
Macon, Georgia, U.S.
Died May 9, 2020(2020-05-09) (aged 87)
Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.
Genres Rock and roll, rhythm and blues, Gospel
Occupation(s) Musician, songwriter
Instruments Piano, Voice
Years active 1951-2020

Richard Wayne Penniman (December 5, 1932 – May 9, 2020), known by his stage name Little Richard, was an American recording artist, songwriter, and musician. He is one of the early creators of rock and roll music in the 1950s.

Early life

Richard Wayne Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, on December 5, 1932, the third of twelve children of Leva Mae (née Stewart) and Charles "Bud" Penniman. His father was a church deacon and a brick mason. His mother was a member of Macon's New Hope Baptist Church. Initially, his first name was supposed to have been "Ricardo", but an error resulted in "Richard" instead. The Penniman children were raised in a neighborhood of Macon called Pleasant Hill. 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, he began singing in church and taking piano lessons at a young age.

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

Richard attended Macon's Hudson High School, where he was a below-average student. He eventually learned to play alto saxophone, joining his school's marching band while in fifth grade. While in high school, he got a part-time job at Macon City Auditorium for local secular and gospel concert promoter Clint Brantley. He 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.

Music career

In 1951 Little Richard began his music career by making gospel and jazz influenced rhythm and blues. He did not sell many records until 1955 when he added a loud drum beat and loud Gospel-style singing and boogie-woogie piano playing. This new music would come to be known as of rock and roll. Little Richard influenced many rock and roll musicians who started after him.

"Tutti Frutti" (1955), one of Richard's signature songs, became an instant hit, crossing over to the pop charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom. His next hit single, "Long Tall Sally" (1956), hit No. 1 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues Best-Sellers chart, followed by a rapid succession of fifteen more in less than three years.

Richard is cited as one of the first crossover black artists, reaching audiences of all races. His music and concerts broke the color line, drawing black and white people together despite attempts to sustain segregation. Many of his contemporaries, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, recorded covers of his works. Taken by his music and style, and personally covering four of Richard's songs on his own two breakthrough albums in 1956, Presley told Richard in 1969 that his music was an inspiration to him and that he was "the greatest".

Richard was honored by many institutions. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of its first group of inductees in 1986. He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards from The Recording Academy and the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. In 2015, Richard received a Rhapsody & Rhythm Award from the National Museum of African American Music for his key role in the formation of popular music genres and helping to bring an end to the racial divide on the music charts and in concert in the mid-1950s changing American culture significantly. "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 1957, when he was at his most popular point, Little Richard quit rock and roll music. He went to Bible college and became a church preacher. He then went on to play only Gospel music for many years. He returned to playing rock and roll when he was older, and also continued playing Gospel music.


Richard died on May 9, 2020 at his home in Tullahoma, Tennessee at the age of 87 from bone cancer. His brother, sister, and son were with him at the time. Richard received tributes from many popular musicians, including Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, John Fogerty, Elton John, and Lenny Kravitz, as well as many others, such as film director John Waters, who were influenced by Richard's music and persona. He is interred at Oakwood University Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Huntsville, Alabama.


Although Richard never won a competitive Grammy (his classic run of hits ended before the Grammys commenced), he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. His album Here's Little Richard and three of his songs ("Tutti Frutti", "Lucille" and "Long Tall Sally") are inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Richard received various awards for his key role in the formation of popular music genres.

  • 1956: He received the Cashbox Triple Crown Award for "Long Tall Sally" in 1956.
  • 1984: He was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.
  • 1986: He was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the initial class of inductees chosen for that honor.
  • 1990: He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
  • 1994: He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
  • 1997: He received the American Music Award of Merit.
  • 2002: Along with Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, he was honored as one of the first group of BMI icons at the 50th Annual BMI Pop Awards.
  • 2002: He was inducted into the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame.
  • 2003: He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
  • 2006: He was inducted into the Apollo Theater Hall of Fame.
  • 2008: He received a star on Nashville's Music City Walk of Fame.
  • 2009: He was inducted to the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
  • 2010: He received a plaque on the theater's Walk of Fame.
  • 2015: He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
  • 2015: He was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.
  • 2015: He received the Rhapsody & Rhythm Award from the National Museum of African American Music.
  • 2019: He received the Distinguished Artist Award at the 2019 Tennessee Governor's Arts Awards.


Release date Title Chart Positions
US Charts US R&B chart UK Singles Chart
11/55 "Tutti Frutti" #17 #2 #29
4/56 "Long Tall Sally" #6 #1 #3
4/56 "Slippin' and Slidin'" #33 #2 -
6/56 "Rip It Up" #17 #1 #30
6/56 "Ready Teddy" #44 #8 -
10/56 "Heebie-Jeebies" - #7 -
10/56 "She's Got It" - #9 #15
12/56 "The Girl Can't Help It" #49 #7 #9
12/56 "All Around the World" - #13 -
3/57 "Lucille" #21 #1 #10
3/57 "Send Me Some Lovin'" #54 #3 -
6/57 "Jenny Jenny" #10 #2 #11
6/57 "Miss Ann" #56 #6 -
9/57 "Keep A Knockin'" #8 #2 #21
2/58 "Good Golly, Miss Molly" #10 #4 #8
6/58 "Ooh! My Soul" #31 #15 #22
6/58 "True, Fine Mama" #68 - -
9/57 "Baby Face'" #41 #12 #2
2/58 "Kansas City" #95 - #26
3/59 "By the Light of the Silvery Moon" - - #17
11/62 "He Got What He Wanted" - - #38
7/64 "Bama Lama Lama Loo" #82 #82 #20
11/65 "I Don't Know What You've Got But It's Got Me" #92 #12 -
8/66 "Poor Dog (Who Can't Wag His Own Tail)" - #41 -
5/70 "Freedom Blues" #47 #28 -
9/70 "Greenwood Mississippi" #85 - -
8/73 "In the Middle of the Night" - #71 -
3/86 "Great Gosh A'Mighty!" #42 - #62
10/86 "Operator" - - #67

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