Little Richard was one of the pioneers — or as he put it, the architect— of rock ‘n’ roll. He was the flamboyant singer of a string of hits from “Tutti Frutti” to “Good Golly Miss Molly”.
Had Richard Penniman been white, he probably would have had a career like Elvis Presley’s. But Little Richard started his career in the late 50s when recordings by black artists were labelled “race records” and marketed exclusively to African Americans. So it was Elvis who took “Tutti Frutti” to the top of the mainstream charts though its creator Richard had sold 1 million copies.
It’s emblematic of his output: frenetically energetic as he shrieks ‘awopbopaloobop alopbamboom’. (Legend has it that he taught Paul McCartney to “scream in tune”.)
He was born in Georgia in 1932, one of 12 siblings growing up during the Great Depression.
His great hits all date from 1955 to 1958, when he gave up rock ‘n’ roll for gospel and became a preacher. But he returned to the rock scene for several comebacks, notably a 1962 tour of the UK where his support acts were Sam Cooke, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. His wild stage presence included outlandish costumes and a gravity defying quiff.
He was one of the inaugural inductees in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and inspired younger performers from Patti Smith and David Bowie to Prince.