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Little Richard

"God gives us the ability, but rock ‘n’ roll was created by men."

-Little Richard


Early Years

Little Richard frenzied approach to music was fueled by a genuinely outrageous personality. He was born Richard Penniman during the Depression in Macon, Georgia, one of twelve children who grew up in poverty in the Deep South. As a youngster, he soaked up music - blues, country, gospel, vaudeville - which was part of the fabric of life in the black community.

His father, Bud, was a stern man who made his living selling moonshine and didn’t do much to hide his disdain for his son’s early signs of homosexuality. At the age of 13 Richard was ordered to move out of the family home. Richard’s relationship with his father was never repaired. When Richard was 19, his father was shot dead outside a local bar.

The childhood that Richard did manage to have was largely shaped by the church. Two of his uncles as well as his grandfather were preachers, and Richard was involved with the church as much as anyone in his family, singing gospel and eventually learning to play the piano from an equally flamboyant character.


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. Onstage, he’d deliver wild, piano-pounding epistles while costumed in sequined vests, mascara, lipstick, and a pompadour that shook with every thundering beat.

Little Richard first recorded in a bluesy vein in 1951, but it was his tenure at Specialty Records beginning in 1955 that made his mark as a rock and roll architect. Working at the now-legendary J&M Studio in New Orleans with a producer and some of the finest musicians, Little Richard laid down a stunning succession of rock and roll sides over the next several years, including “Rip It Up,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Lucille,” “Jenny Jenny” and “Keep a Knockin’,” in addition to the songs previously mentioned. He also appeared in rock and roll-themed movies such as Don’t Knock the Rock and The Girl Can’t Help It in 1956.

The bubble burst in late 1957 when, succumbing to the rigors of fame and personal conflicts engendered by his religious upbringing, Little Richard abruptly abandoned rock and roll to enroll in Bible college. However, he was lured back by the British Invasion in 1964, regaining his popularity as a concert performer and a living embodiment of the music’s roots in the Fifties. He has launched successful comebacks in every decade since and remains an active performer and icon - and an inimitable reminder of the joyful frenzy that galvanized rock and roll.


In recent years, the once dynamic performer has taken a break from the concert stage. He fell ill during a Washington, D.C. show during the summer of 2012. The following September, Little Richard suffered a heart attack. According to Rolling Stone, Little Richard described the incident to Cee Lo Green during an interview in Atlanta. "The other night, I didn’t know I was having a heart attack. I was coughing, and my right arm was aching.' The singer took a baby aspirin, which his doctor credits for saving his life. The deeply religious music icon attributed his survival to a higher power. "Jesus had something for me. He brought me through."

It's Little Richard. 1964 UK TV Show

It's Little Richard. 1964 UK TV Show

My Reaction

I really think Little Richard is an awesome character. Despite growing up in a harsh environment and practically being disowned, he remained optimistic, largely due to Church influence. I'm not sure I could have kept my head above dark waters like he did.

I'm glad that his music was not discriminated against because of racism. Shows just how popular rock n' roll was among all people.

Love how his performances are, especially love the second part in the video (@12:30). He is so optimistic and extremely energetic, playing the piano so fast that I can't see his fingers. It's awesome how he gets the crowd to participate too and how he can vary his voice.

I thought it was interesting how the entire crowd has seats and is sitting down in the video. Today, everyone would be be screaming and standing on bleachers.

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Jessica Kastello

Hour 6

Project 19