Name at birth: Richard Wayne Penniman
Along with Elvis Presley, Little Richard helped define the wild side of early rock and roll with sexualized songs and outrageous behavior on stage. Little Richard Penniman grew up singing gospel and blues and began recording in the early 1950s. Tutti Frutti (1955), with its opening line, A-wop-bom-aloo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom, became his first big hit and remains his signature tune. The song is Little Richard in a nutshell: runaway piano, exuberant screams, bawdy innuendo and a stylized preciousness. He followed with a string of hits, including Slippin and Slidin, Long Tall Sally, and Good Golly Miss Molly. He also established the flamboyant Little Richard look, with slick curls and an extra-thin mustache. He abruptly quit the music business in 1957 and attended Bible college, but returned to rock after releasing The King of Gospel Singers (1962, produced by Quincy Jones). During the 1970s his career waned, but he made a comeback in the 1980s, with the song Great Gosh A Mighty and appearances in TV commercials and childrens shows (including Jim Hensons The Muppets). His new career included childrens music (Itsy Bitsy Spider) and duets with Bono and U2, Elton John and others.