December 5, 1932– Little Richard:
“Gay people are the sweetest, kindest, most artistic, warmest and most thoughtful people in the world. And since the beginning of time all they’ve ever been is kicked.”
Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia, one of a family of 12 kids. His father was a church deacon, a bootlegger and the owner of the popular Tip In Inn nightclub. He gained the name “Lil’ Richard” because of his small, skinny frame.
Little Richard began singing in church at a young age. One of his legs was shorter than the other, giving him an unusual way of walking. As a kid, he was mocked for his effeminate demeanor. His father brutally beat him for trying on his mother’s dresses and kicked him out of the house when he was 14-years-old for fooling around with another boy.
Musically, he was inspired by the great Gospel singers of his era, like Mahalia Jackson. His family had forbidden secular music in their house, but Little Richard loved the sounds of popular artists like Cab Calloway who performed “Devil Music”.
Without a home, 14-year-old Little Richard joined Dr. Hudson’s Medicine Show, performing his first secular song, the R&B flavored Caldonia. He found work performing in Black Vaudeville houses, gaining quite a reputation as a drag performer. He also began listening to more R&B Music. He started to get gigs as a solo artist on The Chitlin’ Circuit, where African-American musicians and comedians were able to do their thing with some degree of safety in racist and segregated America. He became popular for his high-energy song sets and his flamboyant hairstyles and costumes.
In 1955, Little Richard sent a two-song demo to the R&B label, Specialty Records. Specialty liked what they heard and thought that Little Richard might be their own answer to the immensely popular Ray Charles. His first record was called Tutti Frutti, a risqué tune that he improvised and recorded in three takes.
Tutti Frutti became an instant hit, reaching Number Two on the Billboard R&B Charts, and it crossed over to the Pop Music charts in both the USA and England. His next single, Long Tall Sally, did even better, going to Number One on R&B and the Pop charts.
Little Richard belted out the musical blueprint for Elvis Presley, Elton John, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, all of them noting his influence, while backstage he set the benchmark for bad behavior with a penchant for group sex, angel dust and booze.
Little Richard has been an influential figure in popular music and culture for more than six decades, but his most celebrated work remains his recordings from the mid-1950s, when his dynamic music and charisma more or less started Rock ‘N’ Roll. His music also played an important role in the formation of Funk, Soul and even Hip-Hop. The music he made was the very essence of the best R&B era and influenced future generations of artists. His performances and those times he was making headlines thrust his career right into the crazy mix of 20th century American popular music.
As a singer, songwriter and pianist, he is a giant even if he little. He is a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame, plus he’s the winner of a Rhythm And Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award. His Here’s Little Richard is ranked 50th on Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, and he is ranked Number Eight on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists Of All Time, plus three of Little Richard’s recordings: The Girl Can’t Help It, Long Tall Sally and Tutti Frutti are on their 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. He also received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.
There is no doubt that Little Richard has had all sorts of gay experiences. In 1995, he told Penthouse Magazine that he was gay:
“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?”
If there are any real doubts, there is also those six decades lived in absolute fabulousness. Little Richard made Prince seem like Idris Elba.
He has identified himself as “omnisexual”, and when he became a born-again Christian, he claimed to be heterosexual… for just a few minutes.
Little Richard was lucky to have a beard with his on again, off again girlfriend since 1956, Audrey Robinson, who had a certain something the boys didn’t: phenomenal tits.
“I was not a fan. I was just walking down West Broad Street in Savannah. Richard looked out of a car window, and sent for me. I said to the person he sent down: ‘Who wants me? Little Richard? Excuse me? Is he aware that I am a girl?’ I was captivated from the moment I met him. I almost fainted. I felt weak at the knees. I went through all the classic signs of falling in love. With Richard, I have had a lot of firsts.”
During one of his Jesus phases, he was married to a woman for four years.
Little Richard was present at a series of orgies in the 1950s and 1960s where apparently, some straight sex slipped in when he wasn’t paying any attention.
As World of Wonder writer James St. James wrote in October, Little Richard seems to have handed in his gay card once again. St. James reported that in an interview with 3ABN, Little Richard spoke about his sexuality, saying he was dedicating his final years to living “like Jesus”, insisting men should live as men and women as women:
“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, he 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.”
“Regardless of whatever you are, he loves you. I don’t care what you are. He loves you and he can save you. All you’ve got to do is say, ‘Lord, take me as I am. I’m a sinner.’ But we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. The only holy, righteous person is Jesus and he wants us to be just like him because, in order to go to Heaven, we’ve got to look like him. I don’t want to sing Rock ‘N’ Roll no more. … I want to be holy like Jesus.“
Still, Little Richard inspired a generation of musicians:
Elvis: “His music has inspired me. He is the greatest.”
Paul McCartney: “He was my idol. The first song I ever sang in public was Long Tall Sally, at a holiday camp talent competition! I love his voice and I always wanted to sing like him. It was all his fault really.”
Mick Jagger: “Little Richard is the originator and my first idol. Little Richard is King.”
In his high school yearbook, Bob Dylan states his goal was: “To be just like Little Richard.”
Our dearly departed David Bowie stated: “After hearing Little Richard on record, I bought a saxophone and came into the music business. Little Richard was my inspiration.”
Paul Simon: “When I was in high school I wanted to be like Little Richard.”
Bob Seeger: “Little Richard was the first one that really got to me. I always preferred a high energy vocal, a hard full-force vocal. I liked Little Richard better than Elvis.”
Pat Boone: “No one person has been imitated more than Little Richard.”
“God talked to me the other night. He said he is getting ready to come. The world is getting ready to end… He is coming, wrapped in flames of fire with a rainbow around his throne. When I talk to you about God, I’m not playing. I’m almost 84 years old. Without God, I would not be here. Can I get an amen?”