Little Richard's life and career are explored in the new documentary "I Am Everything." Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures
March 16 (UPI) -- In the new documentary I Am Everything, rock 'n' roll pioneer Little Richard says, "Did you know Elvis Presley and Pat Boone sold more copies of 'Tutti Frutti' than I did?"
In that one question, Richard, born Robert Penniman, explains the reason his life is being explored. Though he achieved success as a musician and entertainer, he wasn't always recognized for inspiring much of contemporary rock 'n' roll and artists like Michael Jackson and Prince.
"He created the rock 'n' roll icon," a voiceover says, cutting to footage of Little Richard in concert in a pompadour wearing a yellow suit saying, "I am the king of rock 'n' roll."
Little Richard's legacy as a queer Black icon is also explored in the trailer in interviews with Billy Porter and Ryan Murphy.
"I was not supposed to be the hero for their kids," Richard says, as more concert footage plays.
Penniman was born in Macon, Ga., on Dec. 5, 1932, but left home when he was 13. After a stint performing in "medicine shows," he used talents honed in the church to sign a record deal with RCA in 1951 as Little Richard.
"The first songs that you love, that your parents hate, is the beginning of the soundtrack of your life," says director John Waters.
Richard's music was considered lewd at the time but was eventually recorded by artists like Boone and Presley, who sold more records and became superstars in part due to his songs.
"They said we're going to put the White butts on it," Richard said, referring to the practice of having White musicians of the era record music originally written and performed by Black artists.
Little Richard's career spanned the next five decades on the strength of several hits in the '50s like "Tutti Frutti," "Good Golly Miss Molly," "Long Tall Sally," "Rip It Up," "Jenny Jenny," "Keep A-Knockin" and "Lucille," songs now viewed as the precursor for modern rock 'n' roll.
"Michael Jackson was inspired by me. Prince. James Brown, I discovered him. Jimi Hendrix was my guitar player," Richard says in the trailer.
"Everyone was beholden to him," Mick Jagger says.
In 1986, Little Richard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1993 he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.
He died in his home in Tennessee on May 9, 2020, after a brief illness. He was 87.
Little Richard I Am Everything, directed by Lisa Cortes, who won an Emmy for The Apollo, an HBO documentary on the storied New York theater, comes out in a limited one-night-only theatrical release on April 11. It's available in more theaters and a digital release on demand on April 21.
Left to right, Kim Petras, Sam Smith, Violet Chachki and Gottmik attend the 65th annual Grammy Awards at the Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles on February 5, 2023. Smith and Petras are nominees. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo