He changed the landscape of music forever!
Richard Wayne Penniman, also known as Little Richard, is one of the architects of Rock ‘n’ Roll and a pioneer in every sense of the word. Getting his start singing in churches in his hometown of Macon, Georgia, Little Richard would write his first hit, “Tutti Frutti,” while still working as a dishwasher. The song peaked on the charts and turned the artist into an international sensation. Now a new documentary entitled Little Richard: I Am Everything is celebrating his legacy, impact and contributions to global music, The Root reports.
The documentary from legendary director Lisa Cortés centers archival footage, “interviews with family, musicians, and cutting-edge Black and queer scholars…[to reveal] how Richard created an art form for ultimate self-expression.”
It also explores the struggle of a sort of double consciousness and how he was never able to truly be free with himself the way he was on stage. Nonetheless, Little Richard shattered boundaries and social norms of the time, having a profound impact on the LGBTQ+ community and taking up space in a world that may not have been ready for him. He was bold, and unapologetic, a freedom afforded by music that was withheld from him in his personal life.
“What I love is that in the mid-1950s he was saying he was a king. He was claiming a space for him that was denied for most Black people. It’s a time of Emmett Till’s murder. And Little Richard shows up at the same time declaring himself in a world that can be oftentimes dangerous for non-normative people,” Cortés told reporters.
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Little Richard influenced a generation of Rock ‘n’ Roll musicians including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Elvis Presley, all who recorded covers of his songs. Legendary entertainer Elton John also credits the Macon musician with being a major influence for him.
“I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and that was it. I didn’t ever want to be anything else,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973.
In 1986, Little Richard made history as one of the first Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees, alongside other icons like Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Sam Cooke. In 1993, the Grammys awarded him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. The trailblazing artist passed away in 2020 at the age of 87.
Today, Little Richard’s crossover appeal is still something to marvel, especially since he was a regular in television and film, an ever-present reminder of his influence on the culture. That influence is quite fascinating and one we can’t wait to explore in the upcoming film. Little Richard: I Am Everything is set to hit theaters and streaming on April 21st. For now, check out the film’s trailer below.
Cover photo: New documentary honors the legacy of Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer Little Richard/Photo Courtesy of Getty Images/GQ