Penniman, who was born in Macon, previously this year told a writer for Rolling Stone that he was retiring from show business because of health issues.
“I am done, in a sense,” he was quoted as saying. “I don’t feel like doing anything right now.”
His medical problems reportedly include sciatica and a degenerating hip.
Either way, he has outlasted his contemporaries including Georgia’s other soul-music giants Otis Redding, Ray Charles and James Brown.
Like Charles and Brown, Penniman’s hit-making career began in the 1950s. His success with Tutti-Frutti led to Long Tall Sally, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille, Rip It Up and Jenny Jenny.
He was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1984 and, two years later, was among the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, along with Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and James Brown.
The only time I’ve crossed paths with him was at the grand opening of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame building in Macon in September of 1996.
He told me then, “Everybody says, ‘Richard, you shouldn’t work so much,’ but I work because it keeps me young, because it’s the only exercise I get and because it makes me feel good about ME as I get older. It keeps my legs moving and my hands on the piano, and I’m blessed.”
That night at the building’s grand opening, all of the other stars who arrived in a heavy rain dashed from their limos to an awning leading into the building.
Except for some quick waves and smiles they basically ignored several hundred fans huddling under umbrellas. Most had waited several hours behind waist-high metal rails for the stars to arrive.
Little Richard, however, wasn’t about to disappoint his hometown crowd, even if it meant for his expensive, glittery red and black outfit to get wet.
He went to the rails and worked the crowd, shaking hands and exchanging greetings as if he were a presidential candidate.
He remembered the days when he washed dishes at the bus station in Macon and set up pins in the bowling alley next to Macon’s City Auditorium.
It was in Macon that he started stirring up audiences at the Young Men’s Club on Cotton Avenue and Ann Howard’s Tick Tock Club on Broadway with his outlandish performing antics, wild piano playing and falsetto singing.
“I’m grateful to the Lord that I’m alive to see it,” he told me of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame’s grand opening. “That’s what I’m grateful for. Most people don’t even get to smell the roses in their lifetime. I’ve been able to smell the flowers and plant them, too!
“Listen,” he said turning serious for a moment, “if I had to choose my life over to be born, I’d still want to be born in Macon. There is no place like Macon. When you tour the world like I do, you appreciate a place like Macon.”
OTHER DECEMBER COUNTRY BIRTHDAYS: Helen Cornelius (Dec. 6), Bobby Osborne (Dec. 7), Flo Carter (Dec. 8), Sylvia (Dec. 9), Brenda Lee (Dec. 11), Randy Owen and John Anderson (Dec. 13), Little Jimmy Dickens (Dec. 19), Red Steagall (Dec. 22), Barbara Mandrell and Steve Wariner (Dec. 25) and Travis Lewis (Dec. 26).
SHARON JONES ON DELTA FLOAT: If you missed Augusta-native Sharon Jones riding on the Delta Airlines float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, she was just a couple units ahead of Santa Claus riding on the float that used New York City’s Central Park as its theme.
ELVIS & TOYS FOR TOTS: Two finalists from Elvis Presley Enterprises’ Worldwide Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest in Memphis, Tenn., will perform at the Third Annual Carolina Christmas Toys for Tots Benefit Dinner Show on Saturday, Dec. 14.
The event co-starring Elvis tribute artists Travis Powell, of Shelby, N.C., and Jeff Lewis, of Nashville, Tenn., with featured guest Jeff Barnes, of Evans, begins at 6 p.m. at the Horse Creek Banquet Hall beside Bobby’s BBQ in Warrenville, S.C.
Tickets are $25 and can be purchased by calling (803) 507-1355. Guests are asked to donate an unwrapped toy.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT MARK: Fiddler/guitarist Mark O’Connor brings his Appalachian Christmas tour to the Jabez S. Hardin Performing Arts Center, 7022 Evans (Ga.) Towne Center Blvd., at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 9.
Tickets are $47 and $52. Call (706) 726-0366 or buy online by clicking the “Events” tab at augustaamusements.com.