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HomeEntertaintmentDocsLittle Richard biography and career timeline | American Masters
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Little Richard biography and career timeline | American Masters

Little Richard took 1950s America and the world by storm with hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Lucille.” The Beatles and The Rolling Stones supported him, and drew inspiration from his musicianship and stagecraft. He would go on to influence artists as diverse as David Bowie, Elton John, Michael Jackson and Prince, and he spent his career advocating for the rights of Black artists. This timeline explores Little Richard’s life and the major milestones in his career.

 

1932

Richard Wayne Penniman is born in Macon, Georgia, on December 5, 1932. He grows up surrounded by music – on the street, in church and on the radio.

1932

1946

JOINING THE CHITLIN’ CIRCUIT

Aged 14, Richard leaves home and joins a traveling show – as he’s so young they name him “Little Richard,” and he becomes their vocalist. He finds himself performing on the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit” of Black entertainment venues.

1946

1951 – 1954

Richard continues touring, and joins forces first with gospel-influenced band The Tempo Toppers, and then with the rhythm and blues inspired Upsetters.

1951 – 1954

1955

Richard records “Tutti Frutti” in New Orleans.

1955

1955

THE SUCCESS OF “TUTTI FRUTTI”

THE SUCCESS OF “TUTTI FRUTTI”

“Tutti Frutti” reaches number 2 in the Rhythm and Blues charts, and 13 in the nationwide pop charts – a significant and early instance of ‘crossover,’ where a Black artist successfully sells to a white audience.

1955

1956

Richard’s next hit single “Long Tall Sally” hits No. 1 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues Best-Sellers chart. Pat Boone and then Elvis cover “Tutti Frutti.”

1956

1957

QUITTING ROCK ‘N’ ROLL

Just as Richard reaches the pinnacle of his ‘50s success, he quits rock ‘n’ roll and dedicates his life to religion.

1957

1960

Richard releases three gospel albums.

1960

1962

TOURING THE UK

Richard tours the UK for the first time and is supported by an unknown band called The Beatles.

1962

1963

Richard tours the UK again and is supported by The Rolling Stones.

1963

1984

Charles White releases Richard’s authorized biography “Quasar of Rock: The Life and Times of Little Richard” and Richard is inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame.

1984

1986

Richard is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of its first group of inductees.

1986

1990

A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is placed in Little Richard’s honor.

1990

1993

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

Richard receives a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and preforms at President Bill Clinton’s inaugural gala.

[Photo by Robert McNeely.]

1993

2003

Richard is inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

2003

2008

Richard is placed number 12 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of their 100 greatest singers.

2008

2012

Richard plays a 90-minute show at the Pensacola Interstate Fair at 79 years old.

2012

2020

On May 9, 2020, Little Richard passes away from bone cancer at the age of 87.

2020

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