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S37 Ep5

Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll

Premiere: 6/2/2023 | 00:00:28 |

Experience the meteoric rise and enduring legacy of Little Richard. This portrait of the “King and Queen of Rock and Roll” explores his far-reaching influence as well as his advocacy for the rights of Black artists in the music industry.

Premiere: 6/2/2023 at 9pm
PBS   •   PBS App

About the Episode

Experience the meteoric rise and enduring legacy of Little Richard.

American Masters – Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll explores the music icon’s influence and advocacy for the rights of Black artists and features interviews with Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Big Freedia and more.

A fearless pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll who broke the color barrier in the 1950s with hits like “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” Little Richard defined a genre and inspired generations by defying societal expectations. Charting the meteoric rise of the artist who counted The Beatles and the Rolling Stones as his opening acts, American Masters – Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll provides an intimate exploration of the renowned, electrifying and multifaceted individual. American Masters – Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll premieres Friday, June 2 at 9 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and the PBS App in honor of LGBTQIA+ Pride Month and African American Music Appreciation Month. 

American Masters – Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll chronicles the journey of Little Richard—born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia—from a prodigy with deep gospel roots to a virtuosic, world-touring icon. The new documentary features interviews with fellow musicians Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Big Freedia, Nile Rodgers, Pat Boone, Ron Jones, Bobby Rush and Deacon John; activist and drag performer Sir Lady Java; Little Richard’s spiritual advisor Reverend Bill Minson; producer H.B. Barnum; and historian Dr. Tyina Steptoe. The film includes never-before-broadcast audio recordings of Little Richard made by his authorized biographer, Charles White (a.k.a. Dr. Rock), who also appears as an interviewee. 

After being kicked out of his home by his religiously conservative father, Richard cut his teeth performing in the Black drag scene in Atlanta during a time of seismic change in Southern music, adopting the persona of diva, Princess Lavonne. Record labels and DJs found they could broaden the market for their Black artists if they appealed to white audiences. Little Richard was at the epicenter of this shift, playing his alchemic, ground-breaking rock ‘n’ roll music to integrated crowds when the country was still in the grip of Jim Crow-era norms. 

Following nearly a decade of hits, including his trademark “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Lucille,” Little Richard began to change course creatively—and spiritually. His evolving relationship with the musical style he pioneered—as well as his with his own sexuality—led him to quit rock ‘n’ roll not just once, but twice. In 1957, Little Richard gave up rock ‘n’ roll music and enrolled at a religious college and became a minister. After a stint as a gospel singer, he returned to the genre he helped create, before abandoning rock ‘n’ roll again in the late 1970s. 

Little Richard is widely recognized as one of the first crossover Black artists but spent years feeling his contributions to music have been overlooked in favor of white artists like Elvis Presley. His advocacy for the rights and recognition of Black artists was a lifelong project.


Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll  is a production of Minnow Films Limited and BBC in association with American Masters Pictures. Directed by James House. Produced by Joanna Boateng and Dearl Nelson. For Minnow Films Limited, Justine Faram is Production Executive and Sophie Leonard is Executive Producer. Mark Bell is Commissioning Editor for the BBC. Michael Kantor is Executive Producer for American Masters.

About American Masters
Now in its 37th season on PBS, American Masters illuminates the lives and creative journeys of those who have left an indelible impression on our cultural landscape—through compelling, unvarnished stories. Setting the standard for documentary film profiles, the series has earned widespread critical acclaim: 28 Emmy Awards—including 10 for Outstanding Non-Fiction Series and five for Outstanding Non-Fiction Special—two News & Documentary Emmys, 14 Peabodys, three Grammys, two Producers Guild Awards, an Oscar, and many other honors. To further explore the lives and works of more than 250 masters past and present, the American Masters website offers full episodes, film outtakes, filmmaker interviews, the podcast American Masters: Creative Spark, educational resources, digital original series and more. The series is a production of The WNET Group.

American Masters is available for streaming concurrent with broadcast on all station-branded PBS platforms, including and the PBS App, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO. PBS station members can view many series, documentaries and specials via PBS Passport. For more information about PBS Passport, visit the PBS Passport FAQ website.

About The WNET Group
The WNET Group creates inspiring media content and meaningful experiences for diverse audiences nationwide. It is the community-supported home of New York’s THIRTEEN – America’s flagship PBS station – WLIW21, THIRTEEN PBSKids, WLIW World and Create; NJ PBS, New Jersey’s statewide public television network; Long Island’s only NPR station WLIW-FM; ALL ARTS, the arts and culture media provider; newsroom NJ Spotlight News; and FAST channel PBS Nature. Through these channels and streaming platforms, The WNET Group brings arts, culture, education, news, documentary, entertainment and DIY programming to more than five million viewers each month. The WNET Group’s award-winning productions include signature PBS series Nature, Great Performances, American Masters and Amanpour and Company and trusted local news programs MetroFocus and NJ Spotlight News with Briana Vannozzi. Inspiring curiosity and nurturing dreams, The WNET Group’s award-winning Kids’ Media and Education team produces the PBS KIDS series Cyberchase, interactive Mission US history games, and resources for families, teachers and caregivers. A leading nonprofit public media producer for more than 60 years, The WNET Group presents and distributes content that fosters lifelong learning, including multiplatform initiatives addressing poverty, jobs, economic opportunity, social justice, understanding and the environment. Through Passport, station members can stream new and archival programming anytime, anywhere. The WNET Group represents the best in public media. Join us.


Original production funding for Little Richard: King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll provided by The Leslie and Roslyn Goldstein Foundation.

Original production funding for American Masters provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, AARP, The Cheryl and Philip Milstein family, Judith and Burton Resnick, Seton J. Melvin, The Blanche and Irving Laurie foundation, Vital Projects Fund, Lillian Goldman Programming Endowment, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, The Philip and Janice Levin Foundation, Ellen and James S. Marcus, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, The Rosalind P. Walter Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen, Thea Petschek Iervolino Foundation, The Marc Haas Foundation and public television viewers.


♪ Come on over baby, whole lotta shakin' goin' on ♪ - [Announcer] He took white America by storm, broke down barriers.

- To be a Black artist and go to the top of the pop charts.

- [Announcer] And changed music forever.

- If you look at music, and where rock came from, he is right in there.

- [Announcer] See why there is only one.

- But I am the King of Rock 'n' Roll!

- [Announcer] Little Richard on American Masters.

(upbeat rock and roll music)


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