"I am what I am! Shut up!" So went the catchphrase shrieked by flamboyantly pompadoured R&B legend Little Richard whenever he made one of his frequent 1970s talk-show appearances. One of the earliest African American singers to cross over into the "white" charts, Little Richard was also among the first black pop artists of the 1950s to show up in a mainstream film. That production was 1956's The Girl Can't Help It, wherein Little Richard belted forth the title tune and a second number, "She's Got It." Most of Little Richard's subsequent film appearances have been guest shots, though he did have an extended supporting role -- playing a thinly disguised version of himself named "Orvis Goodnight" -- in the 1986 comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- The third of 12 children, he sang in his family's gospel group, the Penniman Singers.
- Started his own gospel band, the Tiny Tots Quartet, when he was just 10 years old.
- Dropped out of school and ran away from home at 14, joining the traveling Dr. Hudson's Medicine Show.
- Cut his first blues records in 1951, but didn't release a successful single until the rollicking 1955 hit "Tutti Fruti," which had to be rewritten because its original lyrics were considered too sexual.
- Left show business in 1957, though the reasons for his temporary retirement vary greatly.
- After recording a number of religious songs and being ordained as a Seventh Day Adventist minister, he returned to secular music in the early '60s.
- Before hitting it big, rock legend Jimi Hendrix played guitar in Richard's band, while the Rolling Stones opened for him on a 1963 European tour.
- Was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1993 Grammys.