Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Richard “Little Richard” Penniman

“Little Richard” was born in Macon, GA, the third of twelve children born to a Seventh Day Adventist preacher and a homemaker. A flamboyant African-American performer who was the author of rock n’ roll hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” because of a conflict between his sexual attractions and his religious beliefs, Little Richard identified differently throughout his career: gay, straight, omnisexual, and, at one point, celibate or asexual. He said that at first, he only slept with men because he was relentlessly bullied as a boy, and found sanctuary in Macon’s gay underworld. Before he was famous, Little Richard worked as a female impersonator, but he left men and queer culture behind as his fame grew and he acquired female fans. During a break from rock ‘n’ roll, he married and went to school to become a minister. However, an incident with a male student ended both his education and marriage. His return to secular music in the 1960s, and a resurgence in his popularity, propelled Little Richard into drugs and post-show orgies. An arrest in California for spying on men in a public restroom caused him to leave rock ‘n’ roll again, this time rejecting homosexuality -- and sex altogether -- to join the Universal Remnant Church of God. In 1986 he was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.

To learn more, see Kirby, D. Little Richard: The Birth of Rock 'n' Roll. (New York: The Continuum International Publishing Group, 2011) and White, C. The Life and Times of Little Richard (London: Omnibus Press, 2003)

Anthony Imgrund, October 24 2016