Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia. He was one of twelve children; "Little Richard" was his childhood nickname, and even though he was not a little adult (almost 6 feet tall), he kept the name. His family listened to singers like Bing Crosby and Ella Fitzgerald. Richard couldn't find any music he liked, so he created it.
Richard performed at the Presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton. Clinton is a huge fan of Little Richard and invited him to play.
In 1957, he left the music business to pursue a life as a minister. As a child, he wanted to be part of the church, so as an adult he enrolled in Oakwood Theological College in Huntsville, Alabama. During his studies there, the British Invasion took over the musical landscape and Little Richard returned to rock 'n roll. In 1970, he earned a BA in Theological Studies at Oakwood and became an ordained minister in the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Little Richard has appeared as himself or as fictional characters in various films, including The Last Action Hero, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, The Naked Truth and The Trumpet of the Swan. He's also appeared in various television shows, including The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Las Vegas.
On his Definition of Soul album, Little Richard performed duets with Jon Bon Jovi, Hank Williams, Jr., Elton John, Solomon Burke and Tanya Tucker.
In 1986, he was one of 10 performers inducted into the first class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Regarding his sexuality, Little Richard told his biographer Charles White: "We are all both male and female. Sex to me is like a smorgasbord. Whatever I feel like, I go for. What kind of sexual am I? I am omnisexual." He was married to a woman from 1959-1961. He never fathered a child but did adopt a son named Danny Jones.
Mick Jagger famously said about Little Richard, "I had heard so much about the audience reaction that I thought there must be some exaggeration. But it was all true. He drove the whole house into a complete frenzy. There's no single phrase to describe his hold on the audience. I couldn't believe the power of Little Richard on stage. He was amazing. Chuck Berry is my favorite, along with Bo (Diddley), but nobody could beat Little Richard's stage act. Little Richard is the originator and my first idol."
Richard would take off various items of clothing and give them to the crowd at shows. Some people would get shoes or shirts, and a few lucky ones went home with mink coats.
Richard became wheelchair-bound and in constant pain after a botched hip replacement operation in November 2009. He planed to tour after the surgery, but was not physically able to go on the road and play. He died of bone cancer on May 9, 2020.
Little Richard grew up in a time and place - the American South - that could be very difficult for a black man. He never sang about racism, however, and downplayed his numerous encounters with racism, preferring to focus on the positive things that bring us together. Richard said on the subject: "We are all God's bouquet, we all need each other the same as the birds need air." He's also maintained that homosexuals are equal in the eyes of God, stating: "God don't just have Heaven for the straight man. Heaven is for all of us if we do his will."
Jimi Hendrix, James Brown and Billy Preston were all backing musicians for Little Richard early in their careers. When Richard couldn't make some 1955 shows because of a scheduling conflict, James Brown did the shows for him, impersonating Richard. Brown and Richard had the same manager at the time - Clint Brantley - who hatched the plan.
Richard says he started wearing make-up to make himself less threatening when he played for white audiences. He felt he could avert a lot of trouble if it looked like he had no interest in the white women screaming for him. His focus was on the music and entertaining, and the make-up helped facilitate that.
From 1984-2006, Little Richard lived in the Hyatt hotel in West Hollywood when he wasn't traveling.
He would pound the hell out of the pianos he played. Richard's producer Bumps Blackwell said that he saw him break piano strings on multiple occasions by hitting the keys so hard.
In Bob Dylan's high school yearbook, his ambition was "to join Little Richard." Dylan, at the time known as Robert Zimmerman, graduated from Hibbing High School in Minnesota.
An ordained minister, Richard officiated weddings for Stevie Van Zandt (1982), Demi Moore and Bruce Willis (1987), Cyndi Lauper (1991) and Tom Petty (2001). He also showed up on the soap operas One Life To Live and The Young and The Restless to preside over weddings.