Little Richard joins an elite group of Blues Hall of Fame icons, including Fats Domino, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, who built rock ‘n’ roll from a foundation in the blues. Richard’s earliest recordings were in the blues vein and he continued to employ a blues format, often accelerated to a frenzied tempo, on many of his sessions. By bandleader Johnny Otis’ recollections from witnessing his first “beautiful, bizarre and exotic” Little Richard performance, Richard exclaimed, “This is Little Richard, the King of the Blues! And the Queen, too!” Gospel was also a profound force in Little Richard’s life and music, and at times during his career he left the rock ‘n’ roll stage to study, preach and sing the gospel, only to return to the secular side. He eventually maintained a mission in both worlds, handing out religious tracts at his rock concerts.
Born December 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, Richard Wayne Penniman stunned audiences even in his adolescent days performing with minstrel shows. As he described himself, “I was very effeminate. I was very frisky. I was loud.” He honed his appearance and stage act under the influence of gay blues/R&B artists Billy Wright and S.Q. Reeder (Esquerita). He recorded blues for RCA Victor in 1951-52 and Peacock in 1953 but only with Specialty did he transfer his wild flamboyance to wax, beginning with the bombshell Tutti Frutti in 1955. His lives shows were still more frantic, to the point that even his films could inspire riots among teenaged fanatics. The list of performers he inspired is endless, from James Brown to the Beatles to Jimi Hendrix, who was once the guitarist in Richard’s band. Even since his hitmaking days have been over, he has remained a charismatic celebrity. Once “The King of the Blues,” he ultimately anointed himself “The Originator, the Emancipator and the Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Little Richard passed away in May 2020.