Today (December 5th) marks rock n' roll pioneer Little Richard's 87th birthday. Richard rocketed to stardom in the mid-1950's, when his black eyeliner, bouffant hairdo, and flamboyant performances were hard to ignore. With innovative songs like "Tutti Frutti," "Lucille," and "Good Golly Miss Molly," Little Richard, whose real name is Richard Penniman, earned his place in music history, and by 1968 he had sold an astonishing 32 million records worldwide.
During a recent interview, Little Richard seemingly disavowed being gay. Vibe magazine reported the legend appeared without any makeup or his legendary wig, and talked candidly about his sexuality to Three Angels Broadcasting Network, revealing, "When I first came in show business, they wanted you to look like anybody but yourself. And anybody come in show business, they’re going to say you’re gay. Are you straight? Are you a homosexual, something? They’re going to say it. But God, Jesus made men, men. He made women, women, you know? And you’ve got to live the way God wants you to live. . . You know, all these things. So much unnatural affection. So much of people just doing everything and don’t think about God. Don’t want no parts of him."
Fans were confused about the sudden about face, especially in view of past comments by Richards, including his quote in the 1984 book The Life And Times Of Little Richard, when he said, "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!" During his 1995 Penthouse interview when he admitted: "I’ve been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not of hate. How can I (put) down the fisherman when I’ve been fishing all my life?”
On May 8th, 2015, Little Richard — along with Eric Clapton and Tommy Brown — was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis. The induction was held in conjunction with the 36th Annual Blues Music Awards on May 7th and the public Grand Opening of the bricks and mortar Blues Hall of Fame the following day.
Back in September 2014, Little Richard revealed that he suffered a heart attack. Richard spoke of the attack to Cee Lo Green in Atlanta during a Recording Academy fundraiser where the two were involved in a Q&A. Richard explained: "The other night, I didn't know I was having a heart attack. I was coughing, and my right arm was aching. I told my son, 'Make the room as cold as ice.' So he turned the air conditioning on, and I took a baby aspirin. The doctor told me that saved my life. Jesus had something for me. He brought me through."
In August 2013, Little Richard spoke about his imminent retirement, telling Rolling Stone: "I am done, in a sense. I don't feel like doing anything right now."
Since the beginning of his career, Little Richard has been nothing if not outspoken about his contribution to music. He refers to himself as the "originator, emancipator, and the architect of rock n' roll," and many musicians and historians agree. The list of musicians who have cited him as an influence includes the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Prince, Billy Joel, Buddy Holly, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, John Fogerty, and Michael Jackson, among others.
Richard was among the first group of artists inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986. In 1990, he earned a star on Hollywood's renowned Walk Of Fame, and in 1993 he received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences.
Never one to be shy about his talents, Little Richard told us why nobody else could do what he does: ["Y'know, I have a special type of voice that God's given me, and I haven't seen nobody look like me or sound like me, y'know? I have the biggest head in show business."] SOUNDCUE (:07 OC: . . . in show business)
Little Richard told us that upon breaking on the national scene in the mid-'50s, he immediately raised a red flag for the raunchier elements on rock n' roll: ["Uh, when I came out, they had me in the same bag that rock n' roll music. . . The radio stations wouldn’t play me. I would go to cities and they would have signs they didn’t want their kids to listen to me. They would have big signs — the churches and the groups would march with picket signs all out in front because I was considered as ‘smutty.’ They called it ‘smutty’ because I was saying ‘Tutti frutti, good booty,’ and then, ‘Good golly, Miss Molly, the house of blue light.’ 'That's prostitution,' they said; but I didn’t mean that — it wasn’t meant that way."] SOUNDCUE (:34 OC: . . . meant that way)
Paul McCartney says that the birth of rock n' roll not only changed his life but the world at large: ["It was America reawakening the world 'cause, y'know, we were into sort of other stuff then, and suddenly Elvis, Little Richard came screaming out of across the Atlantic, y'know, and it was just so exciting for us all. That is a very exciting time, so to remember it was very exciting, but also being a teenager at that time was a very exciting, interesting time."] SOUNDCUE (:24 OC: . . . exciting interesting time)
Richard's longtime friend Dion says that his vain public persona doesn't cross over into his personal life: ["Little Richard, y'know he has an image as a kind of self-centered, self-serving — (laughs) but, you walk in the room, and he was just taken by who was in the room. It wouldn't be anything about him. Very, like, a selfless kind of thing, y'know?"] SOUNDCUE (:16 OC: . . . of thing, y'know)
Little Richard says that the studio doesn't hold much interest for him anymore: ["I'm really not interested in recording. I don't sit down thinking about 'When can I record?' I like to work, I like to meet people, I like to talk to people, and I think that to come to see me is to see history alive. I am history alive!"] SOUNDCUE (:13 OC: . . . am history alive)
Little Richard told us that when he hits the stage he still feels like it's 1958: ["I love rock n' roll. When I play my dates in person, I sing 'Tutti Frutti' the same as I did when I recorded it years ago. I sing 'Long Tall Sally,' 'Slippin' And Slidin,'" 'Rip It Up,' 'Ready Teddy,' the same as I did many years back. And I don't sing it like it's something old — I sing it like it's a hit now."] SOUNDCUE (:17 OC: . . . a hit now.)
In May 2002, Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley were honored with the first BMI Icon Awards.
Although basically retired, Little Richard continues to keep up a public profile. He recently played himself in a commercial for Geico car insurance.
In 2006 Richard recorded a duet of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" for Jerry Lee Lewis' Last Man Standing album.
Little Richard Still Plays Tutti Frutti And Long Tall Sally Like Hits :
Little Richard Says He’s Not Interested In Recording, But He Still Loves Performing :
Dion DiMucci On Little Richard :
Paul McCartney On First Hearing Elvis And Little Richard :
Little Richard On Controversy :
Little Richard On His Uniqueness :