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Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932), known by the stage name Little Richard, is an American singer, songwriter, pianist and recording artist, considered key in the transition from rhythm and blues to rock and roll in the 1950s. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker web site entry on Richard states that:
"More than any other performer - save, perhaps, Elvis Presley, Little Richard blew the lid off the Fifties, laying the foundation for rock and roll with his explosive music and charismatic persona. On record, he made spine-tingling rock and roll. His frantically charged piano playing and raspy, shouted vocals on such classics as "Tutti Frutti", "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" defined the dynamic sound of rock and roll."

Richard began his recording career in 1951 by imitating the gospel-influenced style of late-40s jump blues artist Billy Wright, but did not achieve commercial success until 1955, when, under the guidance of Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, he began recording in a style he had been performing onstage for years, featuring varied rhythm, a heavy backbeat, funky saxophone grooves, over-the-top Gospel-style singing, moans, screams, and other emotive inflections, accompanied by a combination of boogie-woogie and rhythm and blues music. This new music, which included an original injection of funk into the rock and roll beat, inspired James Brown, Elvis Presley, and generations of other rhythm & blues, rock and soul music artists. He was subsequently among the seven initial 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 and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award.

In 1957, while at the height of stardom, Penniman abruptly quit rock and roll music and became a born-again Christian. He enrolled in and attended Bible college to become a preacher and evangelist, and began recording and performing only gospel music for a number of years. He then moved back and forth from rock and roll to the ministry, until he was able to reconcile the two roles in later life.

Biography

Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, the third of twelve children of Charles "Bud" Penniman, a bootlegger, and his wife Leva Mae Stewart. He grew up in a religious family, amid poverty and racism, and singing made his family feel closer to God. His family had a group called the Penniman Singers, who performed in local churches and entered contests with other singing families. His family called him 'War Hawk' because of his loud, screaming singing voice. His grandfather, Walter Penniman, was a preacher, and his father's family were members of the Foundation Templar African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Macon. His maternal grandmother was a member of Macon's Holiness Temple Baptist Church. Penniman attended the New Hope Baptist Church in Macon, where his mother was a member. Penniman's favorites were the Pentecostal churches because of the music and the fun he would have doing the holy dance and talking in tongues with members of the congregation. When he was ten, he became a healer, singing gospel songs and touching people, who would testify that they felt better afterwards. Inspired by Brother Joe May, a singing evangelist known as 'The Thunderbolt of the West', Penniman wanted to become a preacher. It was through the church where Richard's life in music began.

Nearly all of Penniman's dramatic phrasing and swift vocal turns are derived from black Gospel artists of the 1930s and '40s. He said Sister Rosetta Tharpe was 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 cheered, and she paid him more money than he had ever seen after the show. He was also influenced by Marion Williams, from whom he got the trademark "whoooo" in his vocal, Mahalia Jackson and Brother Joe May. He was 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'.

One of Penniman's main influences in piano-playing was Esquerita (Eskew Reeder, Jr.), who showed 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.

Penniman lived in a black neighborhood, where he had some contact with whites but due to racial segregation he could not cross the line where the whites lived. While in high school, Penniman played alto saxophone in the marching band. He began losing interest in school and began performing in a variety of travellng shows in his mid-teens.

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.

1950s

In October 1951, at the age of 18, Little Richard began recording jump blues records for RCA Camden. His father was shot to death while he was in a recording session on January 12, 1952. In 1953, he began recording with Peacock Records. He formed a road band during this period that he called "The Upsetters," which included saxophonists Grady Gaines, Wilbert 'Lee Diamond' Smith, and Clifford 'Gene' Burks, along with New Orleans drummer Charles 'Chuck' Connors, Olsie 'Baysee' Robinson on bass, and Nathaniel 'Buster' Douglas on guitar. Records were released each year from 1951-54, but none were significant hits.

At Lloyd Price's suggestion, Little Richard recorded a demo for gospel/R&B label Specialty Records on February 9, 1955. Specialty's owner, Art Rupe, loaned him money to buy out his contract from Peacock Records and placed his career in the hands of Specialty's A&R man Robert "Bumps" Blackwell,

Rupe and Blackwell originally pictured Little Richard as a commercial rival to Ray Charles, who was experiencing success with Atlantic Records by taking gospel songs and developing them in a bluesy setting with a beat. Little Richard told Rupe he liked Fats Domino's sound, so Rupe and Blackwell booked Cosimo Matassa's J & M Recording Studio in New Orleans, and hired studio musicians who had worked with Domino (including Earl Palmer on drums and Lee Allen on sax) rather than members of Little Richard's road band.

Following some recording that did not satisfy Blackwell, they took a break. Penniman began pounding out a boogie woogie rhythm on piano and hollering out impromptu recital of "Tutti Frutti", a song he wrote and had been performing on stage for years. Blackwell was so impressed with the sound that he had Little Richard record the song. However, in order to make it commercially acceptable, he had Little Richard's lyrics changed from "tutti-frutti, good booty" to "tutti frutti, aw rooty." (All rooty was hipster slang for "all right".) The song featured a powerhouse acappella intro "Awop-Bop-a-Loo-Mop Alop-Bam-Boom!" that had also been altered slightly to make it commercially acceptable. The recording was released on Specialty in October 1955.

Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" climbed to the top of Billboard's R&B chart. Sixteen more hit singles followed in less than three years, seven of which reached number 1. While most of these hits were characterized by a driving piano, boogie-woogie bass line, a variety of rhythmic drumbeats, and wild screams before Lee Allen's funky sax solos, such as Rip It Up", "Lucille", "Jenny, Jenny", "Good Golly, Miss Molly" and "Keep A-Knockin'", a few of them were slower in tempo and more soulful, such as "Slippin' and Slidin'", "Send Me Some Lovin'" and "True Fine Mama". During this period, he also appeared performing his hit songs in three films, including The Girl Can't Help It (1956), in which he sang the hit title track, Don't Knock the Rock (1956), and Mister Rock and Roll (1957).

"Tutti Frutti" was quickly covered by both Elvis Presley and Pat Boone. While Presley's versions only appeared as album tracks, Boone's covers were released as singles and his "Tutti Frutti" single outdid the source record on Billboard's Top 100 pop chart. Boone also released a version of "Long Tall Sally" with slightly bowdlerized lyrics, but this time, the Little Richard original version outperformed the cover on the Billboard pop chart. Presley and Bill Haley tackled Little Richard's fourth R&B chart topper, "Rip It Up", but Little Richard's single was the hit. With the record-buying public's preference established, Little Richard's subsequent releases did not face the same chart competition.

Little Richard, along with his road band, performed his hits in sports stadiums and concert venues across the United States through 1956 and 1957. He brought the races together at his concerts, at a time in the United States when laws still dictated that public facilities (including concert venues) be divided into separate "white" and "colored" domains. Little Richard's audiences would start out segregated in the building, usually with one race on the floor and the other on the balcony, but most of the time, by the end of the night they were mixed together. Racists in the south, such as The North Alabama White Citizens Council, responded by putting out statements on television, warning the public that "Rock n Roll is part of a test to undermine the morals of the youth of our nation. It is sexualistic, unmoralistic and ... brings people of both races together." The demand for him was so great, however, that even in the south where segregation was most rampant, the taboos against black artists appearing in white venues were being shattered.

Penniman was an innovative and charismatic performer, appearing in sequined capes under flicker lights that he brought from show business into the music world. He would run off and on the stage, jumping, yelling, and whipping the audience into a frenzy. At a concert in Baltimore, Maryland, US concert history was made when excited people had to be restrained from jumping off the balconies, and the police had to stop the show twice to remove dozens of girls that had climbed onstage to try to rip souvenirs from Penniman. Later in the show, girls began to throw their undergarments onto the stage.

While on the road in the mid-50s, Penniman would have notorious parties, replete with orgies, in hotel rooms wherever they appeared. In late 1956, he met a voluptuous high school graduate in Savannah, Georgia by the name of Angel Lee. She became his girlfriend and started travelling on the road with him. Penniman would invite attractive men to his parties and would enjoy watching them having sex with his girlfriend.

In early October 1957, on the fifth date of a two week tour of Australia, Little Richard was flying from Melbourne to appear in front of forty thousand fans in concert in Sydney. Shocked by the red hot appearance of the engines against the night sky, he envisioned angels holding up the plane. Then, while he performed at the stadium, he was shaken by the sight of a ball of fire that he watched streak across the sky overhead. He took what was actually the Russian rocket Sputnik as another sign to quit show business and follow God. The following day he departed Sydney on a ferry and threw his ring in the water to show his band members that he was serious about quitting. The plane that he was originally scheduled to fly back home on ended up crashing in the Pacific Ocean, which he took as confirmation that he was doing what God wanted him to do.

The news of him quitting at the height of his career had broken all over the world by the time he returned to the United States. He attended one more recording session for Specialty on October 18, 1957, and, at the request of DJ Alan Freed, performed a farewell concert at the Apollo Theatremarker in New York. He then had his roadies drive his Cadillacs across the United States to a property he bought for his mother in California and gave her the keys. He formed the Little Richard Evangelistic Team, travelling across the country preaching, and helped people locally through a ministry on skid row in Los Angeles.

From October 1957 through to 1962, Little Richard recorded gospel music for Goldner, Little Star, Mercury, and Atlantic Records. He also enrolled in Oakwood College, in Hunstville, Alabama, where he planned to take a three year course which was to culminate in ordination. In November 1957, he met Ernestine Campbell at an evangelistic meeting in Washington. They were married on July 11, 1959.

1960s

Following release of his gospel album for Mercury Records, Little Richard met Mahalia Jackson, one of his childhood heroes. She was appearing in Los Angeles and he stopped her on the street to invite her to hear him sing at the Mount Maria Baptist Church. She attended and indicated that she was delighted with his singing, stating that "he was singing gospel songs the way they should be sung" and "he had that primitive beat and sound that came so naturally." Two of his gospel songs during this period hit the charts - "He's Not Just a Soldier" (1961) for Mercury, and "Crying In The Chapel" (1962) for Atlantic Records. He continued in the ministry but was experiencing marital problems and some difficulty living a disciplined Christian life.

Although rock and roll sales were in a slump in America in 1962, Little Richard records were still selling well in England. British promoter Don Arden booked him for an October tour of the country, with The Beatles as an opening act. Penniman thought he was going to perform gospel music but Arden had promoted the concert as a rock and roll show. Refusing to travel by airplane, Penniman sailed from New York on the ageing liner SS Rotterdammarker. On the first night of the tour he began performing gospel music, however, tempted by the lure of show business, he gave in the pressure and began performing his secular hits. The crowds appeared spellbound, with people standing and near hysterical girls in the aisles. He walked off to a standing ovation. The frenzied crowd reaction was to be repeated wherever Little Richard appeared.

Penniman returned to Specialty Records in April 1963, recording one secular track. In mid-summer, around the time of his divorce, Don Arden began negotiating a second tour of England. Penniman did not tell disclose this to the church community because wasn't convinced that Rock and Roll was evil and he still wanted to keep his options open in the ministry.

Little Richard toured Englandmarker and Walesmarker in October and November 1963, with Bo Diddley, The Everly Brothers and the then little known Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger would later state, "I heard so much about the audience reaction, I thought there must be some exaggeration. But it was all true. He drove the whole house into a complete frenzy... I couldn't believe the power of Little Richard onstage. He was amazing." Near the end of the tour, he recorded a television show, "The Little Richard Spectacular", with Sounds Incorporated as the backing band and The Shirelles performing backing vocals, for Britain's largest independent television company at the time, Granada Network. First shown on British commercial television in May 1964, the broadcast was an overwhelming success. Granada repeated the broadcast twice after receiving over 60,000 letters from fans. Much of the footage was used for a TV special, highlighting the frenzy and excitement of Rock and Roll, which was seen all over the world.

Penniman recorded four more secular tracks for Specialty in April 1964. One of these recordings, "Bama Lama, Bama Loo", would return him to the charts but not near to the degree of his 50s hits.

On March 1, 1964, he brought a fledgling Jimi Hendrix into his band, Hendrix may have adopted his visual style from Penniman, dressing and growing a mustache like his. He toured with Little Richard and played on at least a dozen tracks for Vee Jay Records between the spring of 1964 and 1965. Three singles, including a cover of Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On, would again hit the charts with moderate success. In 1966, Hendrix was quoted as saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice."

Penniman continued to record and perform only secular music in the mid-60s, during which time he began drinking heavily. He has stated that he could have had more commercial success during this period, however, southern preachers, who hated show business and could not forgive him for leaving the ministry, pressured R&B radio stations throughout the southern U.S. to not play his music. In addition, on the West Coast of the U.S., particularly in Los Angeles following the Watts Riots, some Black DJs were not playing his music because he was drawing both races to his concerts.

In 1966 and 1967, Penniman recorded two funky soul albums for Okeh Records, with his old friend from mid-'50s New Orleans, Larry Williams, as producer and Johnny Guitar Watson on guitar that resulted in the hit single, "Poor Dog." Williams also acted as the music director for Little Richard's live performances at the Okeh Club in Los Angeles. Live bookings for Little Richard during this period skyrocketed and returned him to Billboard's album chart for the first time in ten years. He also returned to a lifestyle of orgies and bisexuality, re-involving former girlfriends including Angel Lee. He also began dabbling in cocaine at this time, in an area of the city frequented by prostitutes, hustlers and dealers.

With the emergence of the Black Power movement in the latter part of the decade, Penniman was invited to perform for strictly Black crowds. He refused because he did not want to exclude any races from attending his shows. He did, however, remain a popular concert attraction, travelling extensively in the United States and Europe, as well as in Mexico and Canada, throughout the remainder of the decade.

In 1969, he was invited to perform at the historic Toronto Rock ’N’ Roll Revival concert. The event was filmed by director D.A. Pennebaker and featured other greats like Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. Penniman's performance was made available on DVD in 2009, 30 years after the performance by Shout! Factory.

1970s

Penniman continued his wild partying through the first half of the 1970s and developed a dependency on a variety of drugs. He continued to tour, appear in the occasional film, and record secular music through the first half of the decade. He had four minor hits for Reprise Records between 1970 and 1973 and a single charted briefly for Manticore in 1975. That same year, he played piano on the recording "Take It Like a Man" from the Bachman-Turner Overdrive hit album Head On and recorded a gospel song entitled, "Try To Help Your Brother." In 1976, he re-recorded twenty of his biggest '50s hits in Nashville for a K-Tel Records album.

In 1977, Penniman reached a crossroad in his life. Two close friends, a brother, and a nephew that he loved as a son all died, and he came close to being shot by his long-time friend, Larry Williams, over a drug debt. Even though he and Williams were very close friends, cocaine addiction fueled a rage in Williams when Penniman failed to repay him because he was high. In what he referred to as the most fearful moment of his life, Penniman happened to have the money and Williams spared him.

Penniman repented for his wayward living and returned to evangelism. He also represented Memorial Bibles International and sold their Black Heritage Bible, which highlighted the many black people in the Bible. In 1979, he recorded a gospel album entitled "God's Beautiful City," and embarked upon an evangelical campaign across the U.S. During this period, he proclaimed that it was not possible to perform rock and roll music and serve God at the same time.

1980s

Penniman continued to evangelize to crowds of as few as 250 in small churches to packed auditoriums of 21,000 through the first half of the 1980s. His preaching focused on bringing the races together and lost souls to repentance through God's love, as well as the rejection of his former lifestyle of substance abuse and homosexuality.

In 1984 Charles White's authorized biography of Penniman (The Life and Times of Little Richard) was published, attracting attention for its "juicy anecdotes". Shortly before its publication, Penniman's mother died; on her deathbed she asked him to promise that he would remain a Christian. He thereafter reconciled his role as a minister and as a rock and roll artist, stating that he believed that rock and roll music could be used for good or evil.

In an effort to merge his faith with his music, Little Richard enrolled his old friend Billy Preston to help him write a song with religious lyrics that sounded like rock & roll. The song was destined for the soundtrack of a new motion picture entitled Down and Out in Beverly Hills, which he would also perform in the film. The result was "Great Gosh A'Mighty (It's a Matter of Time)", which became a hit. The song was included in an album of faith-based material entitled Lifetime Friend, recorded (primarily in England) from 1984 through 1986. Penniman referred to his new style of music as "message music" and "messages in rhythm".

Near the end of the recording process for Lifetime Friend, Penniman flew back to the United States to appear in an episode of the television show Miami Vice. Following the filming he broke his leg in an automobile accident, which prevented him from attending the first Rock and Roll Hall of Famemarker induction ceremony on January 23, 1986, at which he was honored as one of the first inductees.

Penniman appeared in the 1986 motion picture Down and Out in Beverly Hills, receiving critical acclaim for his acting performance. In 1988, he appeared on the tribute album Folkways: A Vision Shared ("The Rock Island Line", backed by Fishbone) and performed the theme song for the Twins motion picture soundtrack with Philip Bailey. He also preached the sermon and sang background vocals on an extended version of the 1989 hit "When Love Comes to Town" by U2 and B.B. King hit. He made many other appearances on film, TV, music videos and record through the latter half of the decade.

1990s

Little Richard remained active through the 1990s on television, in music videos, commercials, movies, in concert and as a guest recording artist. In 1990, he recorded a rap segment for Living Colour's "Elvis Is Dead" (featuring Maceo Parker on saxophone) and then performed it with the band live on television. He appeared (as a preacher) in music videos for the Cinderella recording "Shelter Me" and in a new recording of "Good Golly Miss Molly" for the motion picture King Ralph (1991). He recorded an album of classic children's songs in his original rocking style for Disney, as well as the opening theme song for the science mystery cartoon The Magic School Bus. He recorded duets with Jon Bon Jovi, Hank Williams, Jr., Elton John, Tanya Tucker and Solomon Burke, and new tracks for two motion picture soundtracks: Casper the Friendly Ghost (1995) and Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1998). He appeared (as himself) in the latter, as well as in the 1999 film Mystery, Alaska, in which he sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and "O Canada". He also guest starred as himself in television shows including Columbo (in an episode entitled "The Murder of a Rock Star"), Full House (in the episode entitled "Too Little Richard Too Late"), Martin (in the episode entitled "Three Men and a Mouse") and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

2000s

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

Little Richard continued to record, tour, and appear on television throughout the decade. He wrote and recorded a song for the 2001 film The Trumpet of the Swan. In 2002, he recorded a rocking version of Johnny Cash's "Get Rhythm" for Kindred Spirits: A Tribute to Johnny Cash. In 2005, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a duet of the Beatles' hit "I Saw Her Standing There" for Lewis's 2006 album Last Man Standing. In 2006, he was featured in a hit Geico television advertisement. Later that year, he was selected by Simon Cowell as judge for the Fox television series Celebrity Duets. On March 24, 2007, Little Richard performed and lectured students at the University of Texasmarker event "40 Acres Fest", featuring 1200 bands. He also performed that year at the Capitol Fourth—a July 4 celebration in front of the White House. On July 25, 2007, he made an appearance on the ABC show The Next Best Thing. On November 22, 2007, he headlined the half-time show for a Thanksgiving-day football game at Sun Devil Stadiummarker in Tempe, Arizona. In 2007, to help raise funds to benefit sick and dying children, as well as to debunk the notion that Don Imus was a racist, he recorded a guest track for The Imus Ranch Record (2008). In June 2008, Little Richard also made a cameo appearance on The Young and the Restless as an ordained piano-playing minister.

Reverend Richard Penniman, who had performed wedding ceremonies for celebrities including Cindy Lauper, Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Bruce Springsteen, and John Branca (for whom Michael Jackson was best man), spoke at his old friend Wilson Pickett's January 2006 funeral,, officiated at a wedding of twenty couples in December 2006, and preached at Ike Turner's December 2007 funeral. On May 30, 2009, following a performance in honor of Fats Domino to raise funds to help rebuild children's playgrounds devastated by Hurricane Katrina, Penniman led Domino and others present in prayer. On June 12, 2009, prior to performing for the grand finale of 29th annual Riverbend Music Festival in Chattanooga, Tennessee he said, "although I sing rock 'n' roll, God still loves me. I'm a rock 'n' roll singer, but I'm still a Christian." In late November 2009, Penniman asked for fans to pray for his quick and full recovery from a recent surgery on a hip, which had been causing him pain for some time.

Influence

Little Richard influenced the development of a variety of musical genres. James Brown, who called Little Richard his idol, stated that he was the first to put the funk in the rock and roll beat via his mid-1950s road band. Otis Redding, whose inspiration was Little Richard, indicated that he contributed significantly to the development of soul music. Richie Unterberger of allmusic.com stated that Little Richard "was crucial in upping the voltage from high-powered R&B into the similar, yet different, guise of rock & roll."

Little Richard has been recognized for his musical contributions by many other high-profile artists. In 1989, Ray Charles introduced him at the Legends of Rock n Roll concert in Rome, Italy, as "a man that started a kind of music that set the pace for a lot of what's happening today." Bo Diddley stated that "Little Richard was a one-of-a-kind show business genius. He influenced so many people in the business." Paul McCartney said that he idolized Little Richard when he was in school and always wanted to sing like him. In his high school year book, Bob Dylan declared that his ambition was "to join Little Richard". Mick Jagger, Bob Seger, John Fogerty, David Bowie and Rod Stewart are among the other artists who have stated that Little Richard was a primary rock 'n' roll influence. In 1979, as he began to develop his solo career, Michael Jackson was quoted as saying that Little Richard was a huge influence on him.

Awards and Honors



Discography

Filmography



References

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  95. http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/michael_jackson/2009/07/02/2009-07-02_michael_jackson_turned_to_old_friend_and_entertainment_lawyer_john_branca_in_tim.html
  96. http://en.allexperts.com/e/l/li/little_richard.htm
  97. http://newsone.com/entertainment/jazz-legend-fats-domino-makes-rare-appearance-for-katrina-victims/
  98. [1]
  99. http://www.spinner.ca/2009/11/24/little-richard-hip-surgery/
  100. White (2003), p. 229.
  101. White (2003), p. 231.
  102. http://www.allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:jifyxqe5ldde
  103. White, Charles. (2003), p. 226. The Life and Times of Little Richard: The Authorised Biography. Omnibus Press.
  104. White (2003), p. 114-15.
  105. White (2003), pp. 119-20.
  106. White (2003), p. 226
  107. CNN.com - Today's Buzz stories |date=2002-02-06
  108. The Greatest Artists of All Time: Little Richard
  109. http://louisianamusichalloffame.org/content/view/94/113/


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