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|Also Known As:||Richard W Penniman, Richard Penniman, Richard Penniman, Little Richard And His Band||Died:|
|Born:||December 5, 1932||Cause of Death:|
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a string of seemingly unrelated incidents pushed Richard to abandon rock and roll altogether. While touring Australia with white rockers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, Richard experienced a vision of angelic figures carrying the plane that he and his band were traveling in to Melbourne. He later saw what he believed to be a ball of fire streaking through the sky during a performance, and took the launch of Sputnik 1 in October of 1957 as a sign that his hell-raising was an offense to God. He immediately announced his retirement from popular music to preach the Gospel. After performing a farewell concert at the Apollo Theatre in New York, he instructed his employees to drive a fleet of Cadillacs to Los Angeles, where he handed over the keys to his mother. Richard then enrolled in the Seventh-day Adventist Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL, which resulted in his ordination as a preacher in 1959, the same year he married Ernestine Campbell, whom he met at an evangelical gathering in Washington, D.C. From that year until 1962, Richard released only gospel records, few of which were heard by secular audiences.Richardâ¿¿s pursuit of a religious lifestyle unraveled as soon as it commenced. He found it...
a string of seemingly unrelated incidents pushed Richard to abandon rock and roll altogether. While touring Australia with white rockers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran, Richard experienced a vision of angelic figures carrying the plane that he and his band were traveling in to Melbourne. He later saw what he believed to be a ball of fire streaking through the sky during a performance, and took the launch of Sputnik 1 in October of 1957 as a sign that his hell-raising was an offense to God. He immediately announced his retirement from popular music to preach the Gospel. After performing a farewell concert at the Apollo Theatre in New York, he instructed his employees to drive a fleet of Cadillacs to Los Angeles, where he handed over the keys to his mother. Richard then enrolled in the Seventh-day Adventist Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL, which resulted in his ordination as a preacher in 1959, the same year he married Ernestine Campbell, whom he met at an evangelical gathering in Washington, D.C. From that year until 1962, Richard released only gospel records, few of which were heard by secular audiences.
Richardâ¿¿s pursuit of a religious lifestyle unraveled as soon as it commenced. He found it difficult to follow the disciple of a Christian life, and his marriage to Campbell quickly faltered. By 1962, he was back on the rock and roll trail, performing largely in England, where his old records continued to sell. In April and May of that year, he shared a residency at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany with a little-known group from Liverpool called The Beatles. Richard took a shine to the quartet, and passed along valuable instructions on how to perform his songs, which were a staple of their repertoire. His influence was clearly heard in Paul McCartneyâ¿¿s vocals, which accurately reproduced Richardâ¿¿s gritty delivery and skyscraping "woo."
Richard toured England in 1962 and 1963 to overwhelmingly positive response; the following year, The Beatles released a raucous cover of "Long Tall Sally," which prompted a spike in interest about Richardâ¿¿s career. A battery of new bands, including The Rolling Stones and The Kinks, sang his praises in print and on stage, which spurred Richard to return to recording in 1963. A slew of minor hits for Specialty and Vee Jay soon followed, including "Bama Lama Bama Loo" and a cover of Jerry Lee Lewisâ¿¿ "Whole Lotta Shakinâ¿¿ Going On," the latter of which featured a young guitarist from Seattle named Jimi Hendrix.
However, Richardâ¿¿s 1960s comeback was short-lived. He recorded numerous singles during the decade, including cuts for Okeh and Modern, who brought the formidable Stax Records session musicians on board for the sessions. But none of the tracks could reproduce the astonishing success of his â¿¿50s sides. Richard soon felt penned in on all sides; he could find no traction on the Billboard charts, and though he remained a popular live act, his acceptance of mixed audiences put him in conflict with the black cultural explosion of the period, who wanted him to play to black audiences exclusively. He soon began to backslide into his old sexual and chemical habits, though now with a growing dependence on alcohol in the mix.
In the early 1970s, Richard and his fellow â¿¿50s survivors found themselves in the midst of a revived interest in their music. He, along with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and Jerry Lee Lewis, had been featured at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival Festival, which also featured the debut of John Lennnon and Yoko Ono with the Plastic Ono Band. The concert, which was captured on film by director D.A. Pennebaker as "Sweet Toronto" (1971), helped to boost Richardâ¿¿s profile, and he responded with another dizzying barrage of recordings. The material, which covered a wide range of genres, from funk and gospel to acoustic pop and soul, resulted in a handful of minor hits, including the single "Freedom Blues, in 1970.
However, Richardâ¿¿s life off-stage was in its greatest downward spiral. His drug and alcohol abuse had reached critical levels, and nearly cost him his life when longtime friend and producer Larry Williams, himself a one-time R&B favorite, nearly murdered him in a cocaine-fueled rage. The incident, as well as the deaths of two beloved family members, spurred Richard to return to evangelism in the mid-1970s. He publicly rejected his lifestyle â¿¿ including bisexuality, which he now regarded as an abomination â¿¿ and began preaching the gospel to audiences across America. He also presided over several high profile marriages, including Bruce Willis and Demi Moore, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. However, he did not include rock and roll among his personal demons, and for much of the 1980s and 1990s, worked to reconcile the earthly and heavenly aspects of his personality.
Richard returned to the spotlight in the 1980s with the publication of The Life and Times of Little Richard, a no-holds-barred biography that featured extensive input from its subject. Its release was praised by his legion of fans, including numerous musicians who extolled his influence on their own careers, including McCartney, Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Elton John and Bob Dylan; the latter of whom noted in his high school year book that his lifeâ¿¿s ambition was to join Little Richardâ¿¿s band. In 1986, he teamed with Billy Preston to record "Great Gosh Aâ¿¿ Mighty (Itâ¿¿s a Matter of Time)," which brought together his rock and gospel penchants into one rollicking track. The song was featured in the soundtrack for Paul Mazurskyâ¿¿s hit comedy "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" (1986), which also featured Richard in his acting debut as a decidedly Little Richard-esque preacher. The appearance led to other screen roles, all largely based on his own oversized personality, on television shows like "Martin" (Fox, 1992-97) and in features like "Mystery, Alaska" (1999) and the Frankie Lymon biopic, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" (1998), in which he played himself as a young man.
The tail end of the 1980s and most of the 1990s were a period of celebration for Richardâ¿¿s career. In 1986, he was among the freshman class of inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although he was unable to attend the ceremony due to an injury from a motorcycle accident. A flood of similar tributes soon followed, including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award, one of the first BMI Icon Awards, the NAACP Image Award, and induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2010, "Tutti Fruitti" â¿¿ once a symbol of rock and rollâ¿¿s most hedonistic qualities â¿¿ was deemed so culturally significant as to be added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry. Despite the accolades, Little Richard refused to be viewed as a museum piece. He continued to record secular and gospel music at an accelerated pace, including collaborations with U2, B.B. King, Elton John, and Living Colour, and toured with the vigor of a man far younger than his seventh decade. He stepped into the producerâ¿¿s chair to oversee the Emmy-nominated "Little Richard" (NBC, 2000), a fairly sanitized TV biopic, and appeared in numerous commercials for companies like Geico. A hip operation in 2009 slowed his productivity a whit, but he was still active and recording as of 2011.or shown to Presley. He was routinely mobbed by female fans, which often rushed the stage en masse to grab articles of his clothing or to bestow him with their undergarments. In Baltimore, police had to stop the show twice in order to prevent audience members from throwing themselves off balconies.
The hurricane of unbridled hormones that Richard whipped up on record and stage continued in his private life as well. He frequently hosted orgies in his hotel rooms, and courted a voluptuous 16-year-old named Audrey Robinson, who performed burlesque under the name of Lee Angel, and whom Richard would supply with a steady stream of sexual partners for his voyeuristic pleasure. The good times would roll until 1957, when
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