Rev. Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932), known by the stage name Little Richard, is an American singer, songwriter and pianist. He is considered a key figure in the transition from rhythm & blues to rock & roll in the 1950s. Penniman's reputation rests on a string of groundbreaking hit singles from 1955 through 1957, such as "Tutti Frutti", "Lucille" and "Long Tall Sally", which helped lay the foundation for rock and roll music, and influenced generations of rhythm & blues, rock and soul music artists. Little Richard's injection of funk during this period, via his saxophone-studded mid-1950s road band, The Upsetters, also influenced the development of that genre of music. He was subsequently honored by being one of seven of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and was one of only four of these honorees (along with Ray Charles, James Brown, and Fats Domino) to also receive the Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Lifetime Achievement Award.
Little Richard's early work was a mix of boogie-woogie, rhythm & blues and gospel music, but with a heavily accentuated back-beat, funky saxophone grooves and raspy shouted vocals, moans, screams, and other emotive inflections that marked a new kind of music. In 1957, while at the height of stardom, he became a born-again Christian, enrolled in and attended Bible college, and withdrew from recording and performing secular music. Claiming he was called to be an evangelist, he has since devoted large segments of his life to this calling.
Little Richard has earned wide praise from many other performers. James Brown called Little Richard his idol and credited him with "first putting the funk in the rock and roll beat." Dick Clark described his music as "the model for almost every rock and roll performer of the '50s and years thereafter." Ray Charles asserted that Little Richard was "the man that started a kind of music that set the pace for a lot of what's happening today." In his high school year book, Bob Dylan declared that his ambition was "to join Little Richard." In 1966, Jimi Hendrix, who played and recorded with Little Richard's band from 1964 to 1965, was quoted as saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice." In addition, Otis Redding,Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger, and David Bowie and many other music stars have cited Little Richard as being their first major influence. He was chosen as the eighth greatest artist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, although at least six of the seven artists who preceded him on the list were influenced significantly by Little Richard's music.