Richard Wayne Penniman (born December 5, 1932), better known by the stage name Little Richard, is an African-American singer, songwriter, and pianist, who began performing in the 1940s and was a key figure in the transition from rhythm & blues to rock and roll in the mid-1950s.
Penniman's reputation rests on a string of groundbreaking hit singles from 1955 through 1957, such as "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally", which helped lay the foundation for rock and roll music, influencing generations of rhythm and blues, rock and soul music artists. Little Richard's injection of funk during this period also influenced the development of that genre of music.
Little Richard's early work was a mix of boogie-woogie, rhythm and 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 and withdrew from recording and performing secular music.
James Brown, who called Little Richard his idol, credited him with "first putting the funk in the rock and roll beat" via his saxophone-studded, mid-'50s road band, by Smokey Robinson, in 1997 as, "the start of that driving, funky, never let up rock 'n' roll", by Dick Clark as "the model for almost every rock and roll performer of the '50s and years thereafter", and Ray Charles, in 1989, as "the man that started a kind of music that set the pace for a lot of what's happening today." In 1969, Elvis Presley told Little Richard, "Your music has inspired me - you are the greatest.". Otis Redding, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Mick Jagger, John Fogerty, Bob Dylan, Dick Dale, Bob Seger, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, and numerous other rock n roll icons have also cited Little Richard as being their first major influence.