Singer-pianist Little Richard was the most flamboyant figure in the first days of rock ‘n’ roll, and a hitmaker whose pulsating, assertive sound was a powerful influence on the Beatles and many other musicians in succeeding generations. The sensuality of his music and his own sexual ambiguity also scandalized many and also created inner conflicts for the gospel-rooted singer.
In his teens, Richard performed in traveling minstrel and medicine shows. After becoming a popular attraction in Georgia, he signed with Los Angeles-based Specialty Records and cut his first singles in New Orleans, backed by some of the city’s top musicians. His burst of hits in 1956-57 included “Tutti-Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Jenny Jenny” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
Richard abruptly left music to study the ministry in 1957, an about-face he would later repeat after becoming a heavy drug user.
In the 1980s he returned, acting on television and in movies. He recorded a children’s album and sang at President Clinton’s 1993 inaugural gala. He was one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s inaugural inductees in 1986 and received the Recording Academy’s lifetime achievement award in 1993.