Ernestine Campbell was the wife of rock and roll legend Little Richard. They were married from 1959 to 1963. Campbell was Richard’s only wife. The singer also had a relationship with dancer Audrey Robinson, whose stage name was Lee Angel.
Little Richard, whose real name was Richard Wayne Penniman, died Saturday at 87 years old, Rolling Stone reported. The cause of death was not immediately released by his family.
The pianist was best known for hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly,”–among many others. Little Richard sold more than 30 million records during his tenure as a musician, the Associated Press wrote.
Little Richard signed his first record deal with RCA in 1951 after he won a local talent show, Rolling Stone reported. He had been using the stage name “Little Richard” since he was 15 years old, inspired by performers like Little Esther and Little Milton. He also dealt with people mispronouncing his last name–Penniman–as “Penny-man.”
One of the trailblazers of rock and roll, Little Richard previously told Rolling Stone he was afraid to share his music with the world. He hadn’t even heard of the genre when he first started singing.
“I never heard nobody do it, and I was scared,” he said. “I sang it a long time before I presented it to the public because I was afraid they wouldn’t like it.”
Little Richard’s presence on the stage alone would make the crowd go wild. “He’d just burst onto the stage from anywhere, and you wouldn’t be able to hear anything but the roar of the audience,” producer H.B. Barnum, who played saxophone with Little Richard, once said, as quoted by the New York Times. “He’d be on the stage, he’d be off the stage, he’d be jumping and yelling, screaming, whipping the audience on.”
Aside from his chart-topping music and signature shrieks, Little Richard was known for his androgynous style. He felt feminine from a young age and would like to wear his mother’s clothes and makeup, which led to his father kicking him out of the house when he was 15 years old, Billboard wrote.
Little Richard Said It Was ‘Unnatural’ To Be Gay
Throughout his life, Little Richard grappled with his sexual orientation. In a 2017 interview with Three Angels Broadcasting Network, he said it was “unnatural” to be gay.
“Anybody that comes in show business, they gon’ say you gay or straight,” he said, as noted by Billboard. “God made men, men and women, women… You’ve got to live the way God wants you to live… He can save you.”
He felt guilty about masturbation. “My whole gay activities were really into masturbation,” he said, according to Billboard. “I’d always be mad after I finished. Be mad at myself, don’t want to talk about it, don’t wanna answer no questions.”
Little Richard’s Sexuality Was Complicated
In a GQ profile from 2012, the author, in part, reported about a conversation Little Richard had biographer with Charles White, a radio host who the legendary singer called Dr. Rock. White penned The Life and Times of Little Richard in (1984), an authorized biography of the singer.
Dr. Rock remembered a conversation he had with Little Richard when he asked him about his sex life. Little Richard talked about being gender fluid.
“We are all both male and female. Sex to me is like a smorgasbord. Whatever I feel like, I go for,'” he said. “What kind of sexual am I? I am omnisexual!'”
In a 1995 interview with Penthouse, he had a more relaxed view of homosexuality. “I’ve been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not of hate,” the singer said. “How can I [put] down the fisherman when I’ve been fishing all my life?”
Campbell reportedly did not see Little Richard as gay. She (and former girlfriend Lee Angel) just thought he liked to masturbate–what he referred to as “pumping–often. “I was pumping so much peter in those days; eight or nine times a day,” he said, as cited by GQ.
Little Richard and Angel Remained Friends After They Split
Little Richard met ex-girlfriend Angel when she was 16 years old. He was 24 at the time. “Someone came up to me on the street and said, ‘Excuse me, Little Richard wants to meet you,’?” Angel told LA Weekly in 2018. “I said, ‘Does he know I’m a girl?’ Curiosity kicked in, as usual, and I walked in that room, took one look at Richard, and we’re still close 68 years later.”
Despite having an intimate relationship with one of the most prominent figures in rock and roll, Angel preferred jazz. “I always liked the freedom of jazz when I was dancing. I picked all my own songs and I did it all over the world for 30 years,” she told the publication. “I never dreamed I’d have such a life, but I did have a lot of fun.”
When she recalled meeting Little Richard for the first time, she talked about “hating” his songs. “It was 1956, I was done with high school for the day and out doing an errand for my stepmom,” the dancer told LA Weekly. “All the kids were excited about the big dance that night with Little Richard, but they said, ‘We know you won’t be there,’ because I hated Little Richard’s music.”
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