Richard Wayne Penniman, better as Little Richard, was, for a time, one of the biggest stars in the world. And he is certainly one of the seminal figures in the development of rock and roll. Both flamboyant and charismatic, he set the bar for the showmanship that would be mimicked by artists for the next two generations.
Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia into a religious family, and he gravitated toward the music of the church. But after leaving home in the late 40s, he discovered secular music and soon began performing and recording. He also developed into a talented songwriter, and while working in a club in the mid-50s, wrote the risque song, "Tutti Frutti." The song was lyrically cleaned up a bit and released as a single. It went on to top the charts and turned Little Richard into a star. He had a dozen and a half hits over the next three years such as "Jenny Jenny" and "Good Golly Miss Molly."
Always torn between the Spirit and the secular, Little Richard retired from show business to become a minister in 1958. He recorded Gospel music for a few years before returning to rock and roll by the early 60s. He continued to record with some success into the early 70s and slowly developed into a popular oldies act for years after that, continuing to draw crowds to his dynamic performances.
In 2000, Penniman was the subject of the movie Little Richard, which chronicled his life. He continued to record even through his 80th birthday. Penniman suffered a heart attack in 2013 but is recovering.