Outrageous, flamboyant, explosive, and excessive, Little Richard is the man who put the rock in rock and roll. His charismatic persona and over-the-top gospel style of singing inspired everyone from James Brown, Oits Redding, and Bob Dylan to Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Prince–come on you know you see a hint of Little Richard in his music and style—and almost every other blues, rock, and soul artist to chart since the 50’s. With a style that is every bit as fiery and animated as his music, Little Richard is the architect of rock and roll and the king of flash.
Hailing from Macon, Georgia, Richard Wayne Penniman was the third of twelve children born to Charlie Penniman Sr and his wife Leva Mae. This grandson of a preacher spent most of his formative years in church where he honed his loud, screaming singing voice, dramatic phrasing, and swift vocal turns. By his mid-teens Little Richard began performing in a variety of traveling shows and by 1955 had landed his first hit with “Tutti Frutti.”
As one of the men that blew the roof off of the 50’s, the other being Elvis Presley, Little Richard had sixteen hit singles from 1955-1957 including “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Then in 1957 after a particularly jarring flight Richard renounced secular music and returned to his gospel roots…but not for long. During the 1960’s he went back to rock and roll, toured England with The Beatles in 1962, Bo Diddley, The Everly Brothers and the Rolling Stones in 1963, and added a fledgling Jimi Hendrix to his band in 1965.
After making a comeback in the 60’s and partying like the ultimate rock star in the 70’s Little Richard returned to Christianity again but by the mid-80’s realized that he could play secular music and still remain true to his religious beliefs and returned once again to rock and roll. Since then he has continued to tour, make appearances on television, in music videos, commercials– who could forget him slinging insurance for Geico–movies, in concert, and as a guest recording artist.
When it comes to style, over-the-top does not even begin to touch on Little Richard’s wardrobe. Boy goes all out in pancake makeup, sharp suits, well coiffed hair, sequins, rhinestones, and fake eyelashes–he could be a professor at RuPaul’s Drag U with all those extras. With charisma dripping from his brow as he rattled the keyboard and hair, clothes, and makeup that demanded your attention, it’s easy to see how he whipped crowds of screaming fans into a frenzy and allegedly influenced Jimi Hendrix’s style when he toured with Richard.
Whether you love him for his music, his style, or his “a-wop-bop-a-loo-lop-a-lop-bam-boom”, there is no denying that Little Richard is still the boss of rock and roll. Woooo!!!
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