Richard Wayne Penniman was born 65 years ago today in Macon, Ga. Better
known to all of us as Little Richard, his exotic looks, rebellious spirit and
scorching vocals and piano-playing were some of the essential building blocks
that went on to form rock 'n' roll. Raised as a Seventh Day Adventist, Richard
learned to sing and play piano at church. His love for the music soon
consumed his life, but his family heartily disapproved and kicked him out of the
house at the age of 13. The white family who owned Macon's Tick Tock Club
took him in and let him perform some nights at the club. His first recordings
came out in 1951, but failed to do any business, and the next year he moved to
Houston, performing with a variety of blues bands and occasionally testing out
his more rock-sounding tunes to an unmoved audience. It was in 1955 that
Richard recorded "Tutti Frutti," thus beginning a long line of hits that sold to both
blacks and whites. "Long Tall Sally," "Rip It Up," "Lucille," "Keep A Knockin' "
and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" were all originally recorded by Richard, charted in
the top 20 and considered now to be classics of the genre.
Richard was at the peak of his career when he quit the music business in 1957.
Claiming that he had an impending vision of the apocalypse in a dream,
Richard stopped performing and entered Oakwood College in Huntwood, Ala.,
where he earned a B.A. degree and became an ordained minister in the
Seventh Day Adventist church. He worked as a minister and played on the
gospel circuit for years before returning to the rock scene in 1964 by recording
the largely unsuccessful "Bama Lama Bama Loo." By that time, the tide had
turned to the British Invasion sound which, ironically, was inspired by Richard's
hit songs. By the end of the '70s, he was back on the gospel bandwagon,
preaching a bit more and renouncing rock 'n' roll and all of its excesses. In
1984, The Life and Times of Little Richard, an authorized biography, was
published and spurred a re-launch of the fabled rocker's career, even though
the book spared no detail about his drug use and wild sex life. He appeared in
Down and Out in Beverly Hills in 1985 and followed that up with guest
spots on Miami Vice, Martin and Full House as well as in
commercials for Charlie perfume, McDonald's and Taco Bell. Musically, he
began a long period of appearing on charity compilations and guesting on other
people's songs, such as on Living Colour's "Elvis Is Dead." Richard's
achievements in music were honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when
they named him as one of their first 10 inductees in 1986. Richard hasn't
released any new recordings since 1991's The Georgia Peach, but he
continues to tour, perform in movies and television shows and make show-stopping appearances at awards ceremonies.
Other birthdays: J.J. Cale, 59; Jim Messina (Buffalo Springfield/Loggins &
Messina/Poco), 50; Jonathan Lewis (Atlantic Starr), 44; Jack Russell (Great
White), 37; Nivek Ogre (Skinny Puppy), 35; Glen Graham (Blind Melon), 29; and
Craig Gill (Inspiral Carpets), 26.