King of rock’n’roll, Little Richard has died. He was born Richard Wayne Penniman, in Macon, Georgia on 5 December 1932. One of 12 children of Charles, a bricklayer, and his wife Leva Mae Stewart. Little Richard impacted the baby boom generation.
The Rocker, who passed away aged 87, was born into a Seventh-day Adventists family and learned to play piano and sang gospel in the local church choir.
He left the family home at 13. After performing locally, he moved to Atlanta in Georgia where he signed to RCA Records in 1951, using the name Little Richard.
He recorded several singles for RCA Records and moved on to the independent Peacock label in Houston, Texas. Nonetheless he had little success at both labels.
In 1955, he returned to his hometown, Macon and found jobs washing dishes. During that time, he sent a demo to another indie label, Specialty.
A single came out and was a hit. It sold more than 500,000 copies and reached No.17 in the US pop charts and No 2 on the R&B list.
A cascade of hits were released in 1956 which include Long Tall Sally, Slippin’ and Slidin’, Rip It Up, Ready Teddy, She’s Got It and The Girl Can’t Help.
In 1957, Little Richard released “Lucille, Send Me Some Lovin’, Jenny, Jenny, Miss Ann, and Keep A-Knockin”. In 1958, he produced “Good Golly Miss Molly, True Fine Mama and Baby Face.
He rubbed shoulders with rock greats Fats Domino, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly and inspired musicians such as Jimi Hendrix and Prince.
His sexuality was complex as he revealed in his autobiography, “The Life and Times of Little Richard”, he fancied both men and women. He met his wife, Ernestine Campbell, at an evangelical rally and they married in 1959 but divorced four years later.
In 1964, he returned to record label Specialty and recorded Bama Lama Bama Loo and played Britain with the Rolling Stones, Bo Diddley and the Everlys.
In 1986 he appeared in the hit movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills. In 1996, he played at the closing ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics. He appeared frequently on TV, in roles as himself, including as a judge on Simon Cowell’s Celebrity Duets in 2006.
His health declined in the 2000s, and he had heart surgery in 2008, cancelling a planned European tour with Berry. In 2009 he had hip replacement surgery and announced his retirement in 2013. He is survived by a son, Danny.