Little Richard: Good Golly Miss Molly… Keep A Knocking… Long Tall Sally… Lucille… Rip It Up… Slippin’ And Slidin’… Tutti Frutti…
Little Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman; December 5, 1932 died; May 9, 2020) was an American musician, singer and songwriter. He was an influential figure in popular music and culture for more than six decades. His success started in the mid-1950s: his dynamic music and charismatic showmanship laid the foundation for rock and roll.
Such was the success of his career that in the year 2000, Penniman’s life was dramatised in the biographical film Little Richard, which focused on his early years, including his heyday. He was affectionately known as the ‘King & Queen Of Rock And Roll’ due to his flamboyant and oft camp style. In 2013 he announced his retirement.
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One of the original rock & roll greats, Little Richard merged gospel with New Orleans R&B. While other R&B greats of the early ’50s had been moving in a similar direction, none of them matched the sheer electricity of Richard’s vocals. Although he was only a hit-maker for a couple of years or so, his influence upon both the soul and British Invasion stars of the 1960s was vast, and his early hits remain core classics of the rock repertoire.
It was the rock & roll revival of the late ’60s and early ’70s, though, that really saved Richard’s career, enabling him to play on the nostalgia circuit with great success (though he had a small hit, “Freedom Blues,” in 1970). He had always been a flamboyant performer, brandishing a six-inch pompadour and mascara, and constant entertaining appearances on television talk shows seemed to ensure his continuing success as a living legend. Yet by the late ’70s, he’d returned to the church again. Somewhat predictably, he eased back into rock and show business by the mid-’80s. He maintained his profile with a role in Down and Out in Beverly Hills (the movie’s soundtrack also returned him to the charts, this time with “Great Gosh a-Mighty”) and guest appearances on soundtracks, compilations, and children’s rock records. He never got that much-hungered-for comeback hit, but he remains one of rock & roll’s most colourful icons.