Today (December 5th) marks rock n' roll pioneer Little Richard's 80th birthday. Richard rocketed to stardom in the mid-'50s, when his black eyeliner, bouffant hairdo, and flamboyant performances were hard to ignore. With innovative songs like "Tutti Frutti," "Lucille," and "Good Golly Miss Molly," Little Richard, whose real name is Richard Penniman, earned his place in music history, and by 1968 he had sold an astonishing 32 million records worldwide.
Since the beginning of his career, Richard has been nothing if not outspoken about his contribution to music. He refers to himself as the "originator, emancipator, and the architect of rock n' roll," and many musicians and historians agree. The list of musicians who have cited him as an influence includes the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Elvis Presley, Prince, Billy Joel, Buddy Holly, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, John Fogerty, and Michael Jackson, among others.
Richard was among the first group of artists inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986. In 1990, he earned a star on Hollywood's renowned Walk Of Fame, and in 1993 he received a lifetime achievement award from the National Academy Of Recording Arts And Sciences.
Richard's longtime friend Dion says that his vain public persona doesn't cross over into his personal life: "Little Richard, y'know he has an image as a kind of self-centered, self-serving -- (laughs) but, you walk in the room, and he was just taken by who was in the room. It wouldn't be anything about him. Very, like, a selfless kind of thing, y'know?"
Richard, who still continues to perform live, says that the studio doesn't hold much interest for him anymore: "I'm really not interested in recording. I don't sit down thinking about 'When can I record?' I like to work, I like to meet people, I like to talk to people, and I think that to come to see me is to see history alive. I am history alive!"
In May 2002, Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bo Diddley were honored with the first BMI Icon Awards.
Little Richard continues to keep a high profile. He recently played himself in a commercial for Geico car insurance.
In 2006 Richard recorded a duet of the Beatles' "I Saw Her Standing There" for Jerry Lee Lewis' Last Man Standing album.
Photo Courtesy of Specialty Records