Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932), known by the stage name Little Richard, is an American singer, songwriter, musician, recording artist, and actor, considered key in the transition from rhythm and blues to rock and roll in the mid-1950s. He was also the first artist to put the funk in the rock and roll beat and contributed significantly to the early development of soul music. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website entry on Penniman states that:
He claims to be "the architect of rock and roll", and history would seem to bear out Little Richard’s boast. More than any other performer - save, perhaps, Elvis Presley, 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.
Penniman began performing on stage and on the road in 1945, when he was in his early teens. He began his recording career on October 16, 1951 by imitating the gospel-influenced style of late-1940s jump blues artist Billy Wright, who was a friend and also helped arrange his first sessions. He recorded for RCA Records from 1951-52 and for Peacock Records beginning in 1953. Dissatisfied with his lack of commercial success during this time, Penniman formed a new "hard-driving" R&B road band in 1953. By early 1955, a demo tape of his music caught the attention of Specialty Records president Art Rupe, who bought out his contract from Peacock and arranged for him to record for Specialty in September 1955. Under the guidance of Robert "Bumps" Blackwell, Penniman began recording in a style he had been performing onstage for years, featuring varied rhythm (derived from everything from drum beats he would hear in his voice to the sounds of trains he would hear thundering by him as a child), a heavy backbeat, funky saxophone grooves, over-the-top gospel-style singing, moans, screams, and other emotive inflections, accompanied by a combination of boogie-woogie and rhythm and blues music. This new music, which included an original injection of funk into the rock and roll beat, inspired many of the greatest recording artists of the twentieth century and beyond, including James Brown, Elvis Presley, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Michael Jackson, and generations of other rhythm & blues, rock, soul, as well as funk and rap artists.
On October 12, 1957, while at the height of stardom, Penniman abruptly quit rock and roll music and became a born-again Christian. He had charted seventeen original hits in less than three years. In January 1958, he enrolled in and attended Bible college to become a preacher and evangelist and began recording and performing only gospel music for a number of years. He then moved back and forth from rock and roll to the ministry, until he was able to reconcile the two roles in later life.
Penniman was among the first group of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and one of only four of those artists (along with Ray Charles, James Brown, and Fats Domino) to also receive the Rhythm and Blues Foundation's Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, Penniman was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2007, his 1955 original hit "Tutti Frutti" was voted Number 1 by an eclectic panel of renowned recording artists on Mojo's The Top 100 Records That Changed The World, hailing the recording as "the sound of the birth of rock and roll." In 2010, The United States of America's Library of Congress National Recording Registry added the groundbreaking recording to its registry, claiming that the hit, with its original â€œA-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom!â€ a cappella introduction, heralded a new era in music. Fanart Banner