Little Richard, Richard Wayne Penniman

Richard Wayne Penniman is the birth name of Little Richard (1932–2020), who played an important part in the creation of rock and roll music—he, in fact, claimed to be the "architect of rock and roll." Born in Macon, Georgia, he grew up with the sounds of gospel, street, and spiritual-based music. His voice was so loud, he was called the “War Hawk” and once was asked to stop singing in church. He started singing with a family group, traveled with a minstrel show, and, ultimately, in the mid-1950s, recorded such favorites as “Tutti Frutti” (1955), “Long Tall Sally" (1956), “Keep on Knocking” (1957), and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" (1958), music that exemplified his tremendous voice range and his croons, wails, and screams that became his signature sound. Sporting his tall hairstyles, eye liner, and pancake makeup, he also appeared in some of the earliest movies about rock and roll, including The Girl Can't Help It (1956) and Mr. Rock and Roll (1957). His early recording career took him from Atlanta, Georgia, to New Orleans, Louisiana.

In the 1970s, he turned to evangelism and gospel music, but, after The Beatles achieved great success recording some of Little Richard's classic songs and acknowledged their debt to Little Richard and his music, he returned to the rock world. By that time, however, the rock world had changed, and his style of music no longer appealed to the younger record buyers. He recorded three albums in the 1970s—The Rill Thing (1970), King of Rock 'n' Roll (1971), and Second Coming (1972). His authorized biography, The Life and Times of Little Richard," written by Charles White, was published in 1984. In 1986, he played the role of a record producer in Down and Out in Beverly Hills and also was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the first class of inductees. Among his many awards were a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1990), the naming of Little Richard Penniman Boulevard in Macon (1990), a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (1993), the Pioneer Award (Lifetime Achievement Award) from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation (1994), and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (2003). In 2010, his song "Tutti Frutti" was added to the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. He appeared in concerts and at festivals until 2013, when he retired. Little Richard died from bone cancer at age 87 on May 9, 2020, in Tullahoma, Tennessee.

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