In the 1950s, Little Richard’s exuberant musical talent and flamboyance broke barriers in rock ‘n’ roll.
However, the new documentary Little Richard: I Am Everything reveals the artist’s hidden struggle to reconcile his Christianity with his identity as a gay man.
Director Lisa Cortés was captivated by Little Richard’s story, including the “amazing people” he connected with and the global impact he had.
The film features interviews with music legends such as Billy Porter, John Waters, Mick Jagger, and Tom Jones, and shares intimate details from Little Richard’s authorized biography.
Cortés finds the most compelling aspects of Little Richard’s story to be his groundbreaking music and the complex life he led, oscillating between the secular and the sacred. In a time when society is exploring gender fluidity and self-expression, Little Richard’s story remains relevant and resonant.
Born in 1932 as Richard Wayne Penniman, Little Richard grew up in Macon, Georgia, with 12 siblings. He discovered gospel music in Pentecostal churches and was expelled from his home for being gay as a teenager. His career took off with the 1955 hit “Tutti Frutti,” followed by other lively, sexually suggestive songs.
Despite his musical triumphs, Little Richard grappled with reconciling his queerness, religious beliefs, and the secular music world. At his career’s peak in 1957, he left rock ‘n’ roll to study and perform gospel music at a theological school in Alabama. Throughout his career, he alternated between Christian and secular music, battled drug addiction, and occasionally renounced homosexuality.
Little Richard’s return to rock ‘n’ roll was a lengthy and convoluted journey, but he eventually resumed his signature energy and style. He continued creating music, films, and television appearances until his 2002 retirement, and in a 2017 final interview, he discussed God’s influence on his life.
Little Richard’s story resonates with modern audiences, particularly as trans and queer individuals face discrimination and criminalization. The documentary is a powerful testament to his impact and a reminder that complex lives can leave lasting legacies.
As we acknowledge his musical and cultural contributions, we must also honor his struggles and the courage it took to live authentically in a world that frequently rejected him. Little Richard: I Am Everything is a moving tribute to a man who was more than just a rock ‘n’ roll icon.
Check out the trailer below: