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YouTube Gold: Little Richard In The Early Days

The one and only

Little Richard Portrait
HOLLYWOOD - 1956: Musician Little Richard poses for a portrait in circa 1956 in Hollywood, California.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Even by today’s standards, a young Little Richard would have stood out.

A native of Macon, Georgia, Richard Penniman was a wild bundle of energy. Using the word flamboyant for a gay performer might seem lazy, but Little Richard was flamboyant. And charismatic. And hugely talented.

He burst on the scene in 1955 with a cleaned-up version of Tutti-Frutti (the original version had some highly shocking lyrics by the standards of that day and so had to be cleaned up).

As you’ll see here, Little Richard was highly charismatic and his band is, too.

Little Richard attended various churches as a child but truly enjoyed the Pentecostal church and his stage persona incorporated some of the enthusiasm of Pentecostal worship.

Not that they would have been happy with him during his rock and roll days of bacchanal excess. But when he embraced religion and relaunched his career as a gospel singer in 1958, religious people were more accepting.

The rest of his life saw Little Richard move back and forth between the secular and the religious. In 1962, he thought he was on a gospel tour in the UK but ended up opening for the Beatles. He had a huge influence on them as indeed he did on all popular music. Put it this way: no Little Richard, no Prince. His influence on pop music is deep, profound and ongoing.