Little Richard Wiki – Little Richard Biography
Little Richard, the flamboyant piano-playing rock n’ roll pioneer is dead at age 87. He died on May 9.
Rolling Stone reported Little Richard’s son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the death to them. According to the New York Times, his cause of death was cancer.
Little Richard, whose real name was Richard Penniman – was suffering from a few different health problems for the last several years and had had a stroke and a heart attack, along with ongoing hip pain after a surgery that didn’t go well, according to The Guardian.
Facts You Need to Know
May 9, 2020
December 5, 1932, Macon, Georgia, United States
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Danny Jones Penniman
Family Profile, Early Life, Education
Richard Wayne Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, on December 5, 1932, the third of 12 children of Leva Mae (née Stewart) 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, his first name was supposed to have been “Ricardo”, but an error resulted in “Richard” instead. 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. A mischievous child who played pranks on neighbors, Penniman began singing in church at a young age. Possibly as a result of complications at birth, he had a slight deformity that left one of his legs shorter than the other. This produced an unusual gait, and he was mocked for his allegedly effeminate appearance.
Penniman’s family was very religious and joined various A.M.E., Baptist, and Pentecostal churches, with some family members becoming ministers. He enjoyed the Pentecostal churches the most, because of their charismatic worship and live music. He later recalled that people in his neighborhood sang gospel songs throughout the day during segregation to keep a positive outlook, because “there was so much poverty, so much prejudice in those days”. He had observed that people sang “to feel their connection with God” and to wash their trials and burdens away. Gifted with a loud singing voice, Penniman recalled that he was “always changing the key upwards” and that they once stopped him from singing in church for “screaming and hollering” so loud, earning him the nickname “War Hawk”. As a child, he would “beat on the steps of the house, and on tin cans and pots and pans, or whatever” while singing, which annoyed neighbors.
Penniman’s initial musical influences were gospel performers such as Brother Joe May, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, and Marion Williams. May, a singing evangelist who was known as “the Thunderbolt of the Middle West” because of his phenomenal range and vocal power, inspired Penniman to become a preacher. 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 identified as gay, bisexual, and even “omnisexual.” However, he was married for a brief time to a woman. On July 11, 1959, he married Ernestine Harvin, who was a secretary from Washington, D.C. They divorced by 1961, according to CNN.
Little Richard had a strong faith in Christianity, yet he also said he knew that he was attracted to men, and the two didn’t jive. In a 2017 interview with Three Angels Broadcasting Network, Little Richard said, “Anybody that comes in show business, they gon’ say you gay or straight,” he said. “God made men, men and women, women… You’ve got to live the way God wants you to live… He can save you.”
He also grappled with whether he should be playing rock ‘n’ roll music or gospel. In that interview he talked about praying over whether he should continue playing rock ‘n’ roll or not.
“I didn’t see no harm in serving God and serving the devil,” he told the interviewers. He was conflicted because he made a lot of money playing rock ‘n’ roll music even though the lifestyle that went with it was not always in accordance with the Bible’s teachings, and said he eventually came to the conclusion that he couldn’t serve two gods.
“At the very peak of his fame…he concluded that rock ‘n’ roll was the Devil’s work. He abandoned the music business, enrolled in Bible college, and became a traveling Evangelical preacher,” according to Encyclopedia Britannica. The New York Times says he was done with Rock ‘n’ Roll after an epiphany he had during a performance in Russia in the late 1950s, but he continued to be an icon for the rest of his life.
By the late 1970s Little Richard had left rock ‘n’ roll for gospel music full time, though he dabbled a little in rock in the 1980’s according to History of Rock. He sang back up on U2’s song with B.B. King, “When Love Comes to Town” in 1989.
Little Richard Death
His death was confirmed by his son, Danny Jones Penniman. He did not say where his father died or specify a cause.
What Did Little Richard Die From?
Cause of Death is not yet reported how Little Richard died, his life in music was a huge influence on many stars who came after him, including Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and more.
Sexual Issues, Arrest
In 1962, Little Richard was arrested “for a sexual encounter with a man in a bus station restroom,” according to NBC News. These were the times where gay men were often targeted for arrests by homphobic law enforcement. Bars and locations were queer men frequented were preyed upon. Little Richard doesn’t appear to have spoken publicly about the arrest.