Little Richard is an American singer, songwriter, and musician. He was an influential figure in popular music and culture for seven decades. The legendary pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll died on Saturday, May 9, at the age of 87 years. His son, Danny Jones Penniman, confirmed Richard’s death to Rolling Stone.
Little Richard Biography
Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia. He was the third of 12 children of Leva Mae and Charles “Bud” Penniman. His father was a church deacon and a brick mason who sold bootlegged moonshine on the side and owned a nightclub called the Tip In Inn. His mother was a member of Macon’s New Hope Baptist Church. Initially, he was supposed to be “Ricardo” but an error resulted in “Richard.” The Penniman children were raised in a neighborhood of Macon called Pleasant Hill. In childhood, he was nicknamed “Lil’ Richard ” by his family because of his small and skinny frame. Little Richard also had an uncle, grandfather, and cousin who were preachers.
Little Richard Age
Little Richard was born December 5, 1932, and at the time of his death, he was 87 years old.
Little Richard Education
Penniman attended Macon’s Hudson High school, where he was a below-average student. He eventually learned to play alto saxophone, joining his school’s marching band while in fifth grade. While in high school, he got a part-time job at Macon City Auditorium for local secular and gospel concert promoter Clint Brantley. He sold Coca-Cola to crowds during concerts of star performers of the day such as Cab Calloway, Lucky Millinder, and his favorite singer Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
Little Richard Career
Richard’s career began in the 1940s but his early recordings with RCA Victor garnered little success. Little Richard signed with RCA in 1951 after he won a local talent show. Richard’s success came when he signed to Specialty Records in 1955, releasing a run of wild and flamboyant singles Tutti Frutti, Long Tally Sally, Rip It Up, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille, Keep A-Knockin, and Good Golly, Miss Molly among others which made him have both black and white fans at a time when racial segregation was rampant.
“Tutti Frutti” jumped to the top of the charts after its release in 1956, and it was soon followed in the same year by “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up.” In the following two years, he came out with “Lucille” (1957) and “Good Golly Miss Molly” (1958), with the songs super-charged with his quick piano playing and gospel-influenced shouts. Little Richard was known as exciting and energetic on stage. H.B. Barnum a record producer and arranger who also played saxophone with Little Richard said, “He’d just burst onto the stage from anywhere, and you wouldn’t be able to hear anything but the roar of the audience. He’d be on the stage, he’d be off the stage, he’d be jumping and yelling, screaming, whipping the audience on.”
Little Richard did not have another top 10 hits after that and he took a hiatus from performing to becoming a traveling evangelist and record gospel music. During the 1960s, he returned to the stage and played wildly to packed crowds in Europe and the U.S. with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones his opening acts. He said this lifestyle began to drain him so he left the spotlight again in 1977 to become a Bible salesman, but returned to the public eye and the stage in 1984, and still performed occasionally in the years before his death.
Little Richard Family
Little Richard had 11 siblings. According to BBC. com the singer left home in his teens after disagreements with his father who initially did not support his music. “My daddy wanted seven boys, and I had spoiled it because I was gay,” Richard said. Though openly homosexual for many years, Richard also had relationships with women. He married Ernestine Harvin, a fellow Evangelical, and later adopted a son Danny Jones Penniman. Little Richard was known for drugs, hard-drinking, and sex parties to which he would take his Bible.
In his entire life, Little Richard has dealt with tragedy. His brother, Tony Penniman, died in the 1970s of a heart attack, a loss that devastated Little Richard. In the same year, his nephew was accidentally shot. He and his nephew were very close as he loved him like a son. Two of his close friends were also murdered within the same year. All this led to Little Richard giving up drugs and going back to ministry.
Years before that, Little Richard had lost his dad at the age of 19. After his signing with RCA, his sales of his single helped improve the relationship with his dad. However, when he was 19, his best friend Frank shot and killed his dad outside a bar. He said his friend was released from jail a week later and he never learned exactly what happened.
Little Richard Marriage
Little Richard married Ernestine Campbell in the early 1960s. Campbell was a bible student when they met and married. The couple was married from 1959 to 1961. In the book “The Life and Times of Little Richard” it noted that Little Richard said he was neglectful as a husband to Ernestine and he loved her more as a sister than a wife. In the same book, Ernestine said, “I don’t regret that we didn’t have children because we always had each other. We’re still very close. It doesn’t matter who comes or goes, I’m usually in touch with him and he stays in touch with me.”
This picture of Little Richard and Ernestine Campbell is how every man should react to his girl pic.twitter.com/DTQAm3iLZd
— Mónica Delgado (@moni_82697) March 31, 2017
Ernestine was the daughter of a Navy family and was working at the Department of Navy when she met little Richard in 1957 when he spoke at an evangelical meeting. She said that she never could really adjust to his lifestyle and sharing him with so many fans.
Little Richard Death
The music icon passed away after a battle with bone cancer. Because of the coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe, many people are now wondering if his death is COVID-19 related. However, he did not die of COVID-19 as his son told Rolling Stone and The New York Times, that his father died of cancer. Richard’s agent also confirmed that the singer died of cancer in Nashville where he was living with his brother. “Little Richard passed away this morning from bone cancer in Nashville. He was living with his brother in Nashville,” Alen said.”He was battling for a good while, many years. I last spoke to him about two or three weeks ago. I knew he wasn’t well but he never really got into it, he just would say ‘I’m not well.’ He’s been suffering for many years with various aches and pains. He just wouldn’t talk about it much.” Little Richard struggled with health problems in recent years. He had a stroke and a heart attack and also struggled with hip problems.
— Mick Jagger (@MickJagger) May 9, 2020
Various artists have come forward to mourn and pay tributes to Little Richard with some like Mike Jagger’s writing he was “so saddened” to hear of Richard’s death adding that he was the biggest inspiration.
Author and philanthropist Frederick Joseph also posted:
Every Black person on the planet needs to keep this Little Richard energy.
Rest In Peace to a pioneer, a legend, a titan of music. pic.twitter.com/xCP3fBg8UO
— Frederick Joseph (@FredTJoseph) May 9, 2020