Richard Wayne Penniman

[Little Richard]

Biography of Richard Wayne Penniman

Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932), known by the stage name Little Richard, is an American pianist, singer and songwriter whose hit songs of the mid-1950s, were defining moments in the development of rock and roll music. Penniman's screaming vocals, frenetic piano playing and flamboyant showmanship inspired a number of performers in various genres. Penniman's hits such as "Tutti Frutti" (1955), "Long Tall Sally" (1956), "Keep A-Knockin'" (1957) and "Good Golly Miss Molly" (1958) combined childishly amusing lyrics with sexually suggestive content.

Born to a religious family in a dirt-poor section of Macon, Georgia, Penniman began singing in church and made his first public performance with Sister Rosetta Tharpe at the Macon City Auditorium at the age of twelve. Dropping out of high school at an early age, Penniman joined several traveling vaudeville shows and performed in various talent shows before being discovered by musician Billy Wright, who helped Penniman land a deal with RCA's Camden label in October 1951. Penniman's recordings with Camden and, later, Peacock Records, failed to generate any success, and his contract with the latter label was bought out by Specialty Records. Penniman recorded "Tutti Frutti" - a song devised from club performances - in September 1955. Released two months later, in November of the year, the song became an instant hit reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues Chart and selling over a million copies. Penniman became an established star, releasing a total of eighteen hit singles, enjoying a lucrative touring career with film appearances to his name. However, by October 1957, Penniman quit at the height of his career to follow life in the ministry, recording only gospel music between 1959 and 1962.

Penniman returned to secular music following a series of tours in Europe in the early 1960s and struggled with various record labels that failed to produce success. Penniman's live concert success in the late 1960s, however, led to modest chart successes in the early-1970s. Following a period of wild living, including drug addictions, Penniman rejoined the ministry in the mid-1970s. Following the release of Charles White's 1984 biography, Quasar of Rock: The Life and Times of Little Richard, Penniman returned to the spotlight, recording secular music under a religious emphasis, while coming to terms with his roles as secular musician and evangelist.

Penniman was among the first group of inductees to be inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. Penniman has been listed in several Rolling Stone "Greatest of All Time" lists including being ranked eighth on its 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Three of his songs made The Hall of Fame's list of 500 songs that shaped rock and roll including "Tutti Frutti", "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly Miss Molly".

Penniman and his road band the Upsetters (particularly drummer Charles "Chuck" Connors) were credited by James Brown for inspiring him to develop funk music in the mid-1960s. Penniman was cited by Otis Redding as being one of the early contributors of soul music. In addition, Penniman's screaming vocals, music and flamboyant showmanship and appearance inspired solo artists such as Brown, Redding, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Prince and Michael Jackson, as well as group artists such as Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger.

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