Coronavirus Gardening: 5 Plants to Grow in Your Urban Victory Garden

When I started my first garden, I picked all sort of vegetables without really thinking about how much space they took up, whether they thrived in a Chicago climate, or whether I actually even liked the taste enough to invest in growing them. Sadly, my first garden was not that successful. But that first year didn’t stop me, and by now, in my sixth year of gardening, I’ve learned which veggies thrive in my small, backyard plot.

The following is a list of vegetables that any starter garden should have. They thrive in MOST climates, taste better than store-bought, and are easy to grow in containers in tight spots or in raised beds.


Of all the veggies on this list, tomatoes take up the most space and require the most care—some varieties can grow up to 12 ft tall (!) and the plants require staking, pruning and fertilizing. However, once you taste your own sweet home-grown tomatoes, you’ll never want to buy a grocery-store tomato again.

When to Plant: In Chicago and other locations in this region, plant tomatoes in mid-May to June. In warmer climates, gardeners can plant them earlier in the season—just be sure to plant them well after your last frost.

Growing Requirements: Many resources will tell you that you can grow tomatoes in three- to five-gallon containers—don’t believe them. Personally, I grow my tomatoes in 15-gallon grow bags, but you can get away with using a 10-gallon container per tomato plant. If you’re growing in a raised bed, limt to just a couple of seedlings and plant them at least 2-3 ft apart because they take up a lot of room. Tomatoes also need to grow in a space that gets FULL sun. If your back porch, balcony or yard is shaded in the least, your tomatoes won’t flourish; the plants need at least eight hours of direct sunlight a day. However, if you live in a super-hot and sunny environment, tomatoes may struggle in the heat so try planting them in shadier spots.

Varieties: One of the most important things to know about tomatoes is that there are two varieties: determinate and indeterminate. Though both are suitable for containers, determinate tomatoes, which include most kinds of Roma, Early Girl, and Celebrity, are more compact than indeterminate varieties. Referred to as bush tomatoes, determinates grow to about 4-5 ft tall and require less staking and pruning of “suckers” than indeterminate varieties. The fruit also ripen all at once, so you’ll get one harvest over a period of about two weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes are less bushy and more vining, require staking and pruning and need bigger containers because they are larger than determinate varieties. You can taste all that tender-loving-care in the final product, though, which is reminiscent of that old-fashioned tomato flavor that your grandparents wax poetic about. On average, the plants reach 6 ft tall and include heirlooms such as Purple Cherokee, Brandywine, Beefsteak and Sweet Million. Once they ripen, they will continue to produce fruit over the season until killed by frost.

Leafy Greens

Greens such as lettuce, mustards, kale and collards are the easy to care for and don’t take up a lot of space, which is always a premium for urban gardeners. Plus, the more you cut and eat them, the more they will produce for you.

When to Plant: Ideally a couple of weeks before the last frost. But in Chicago, who knows when that could be? It snowed in late April this year—should this have stopped you from planting greens before then? Heck no! Most greens are cool-weather crops, so I would suggest starting them in March in places with Chicago-like temperatures. This would be even earlier for gardeners who live in less-tundra-like environments. It’s still not too late to plant some greens; I just planted baby collards, which tolerate the heat more than other leafy greens like lettuce.

Growing Requirements: The best thing about greens is that most of them don’t need much space because they have shallow roots. There are exceptions (hello, Lacinato, aka Dinosaur Kale, and collards), but for the most part you can choose small pots—I like to use those long rail planters for lettuce, for example. They do like sunny spots in cool weather, but to extend the life of your leafy greens move them to a shadier, cooler spot in your garden once the summer heats up. This will help them to resist bolting, which means the plant has begun to flower and has given the signal to reproduce and stop growing. Some leafy greens are easier to grow than others (I’m really terrible at growing spinach, for example, and avoid it at all costs), but for the most part they are pretty idiot-proof.

Varieties: The other great thing about leafy greens is that they are best direct sown, which means you can plant seeds directly in a pot outside. This means you aren’t limited to whatever plant that your local nursery is offering. There are so many varieties of seeds for each kind of leafy green—you cannot even begin to imagine how many types of lettuce there are in the world!


Like tomatoes, peppers like it hot and sunny. There are so many different types of peppers with so many different flavors from candy sweet to fiery hot, you’re sure to find ones that all your family members can enjoy.

When to Plant: Chicagoland gardeners, don’t gamble with your peppers’ lives—wait and don’t plant them until at least June. The soil must be warm and the days sunny. I have learned my lesson.

Growing requirements: Again, most resources will say that you need smaller pots than you actually do for peppers. While it does depend on the type of pepper—sweet Jimmy Nardello peppers, and spicy Thai Chiles, for example, are small and can fit multiple to a pot—most peppers need a substantial size container if you want a good yield. I tend to use 10-gallon grow bags for each of my pepper plants, notwithstanding the smaller varieties. Just be sure to look up space requirements for the pepper you have; it won’t always tell you on the pot it comes in.

Varieties: If you like sweet or mild peppers, Shishito, pimentos, banana or bell peppers are good choices. If you like medium heat, try Anaheim, Poblano or Hatch chiles. If you like it roof-scorching hot, then Scotch Bonnets, Habaneros and Carolina Reapers are for you.

Bush Beans

For container gardens, I recommend growing bush beans rather than vining types, which requires a trellis and can take up a good amount of space in an urban garden.

When to plant: I like to direct sow peas—the seeds are cheap, growing them inside is more trouble than it’s worth, and it’s less expensive than buying plants at the nursery. In Chicago, planting seeds directly in your pot outside in late May-early June is perfectly good timing.

Growing requirements: The thing to know about bush beans is that you’re going to need more plants than you think—a lot more. A good rule of thumb is to grow four to eight plants per person. Thankfully, beans don’t take up too much space, so you can get about five to six plants in a 10-gallon container. Beans don’t require much fertilizing because they produce their own in a process called nitrogen fixing. Though bush beans perform better in full sun, you can also grow them in partial shade.

Varieties: My favorite green bean is called Calima. It’s a slender, stringless French bean that gets pretty high yields. Other popular bush bean varieties include Contender, Dragon’s Tongue (LOVE these; plus, they are beautiful!), Kentucky Wonder and Provider.


Whenever I see the tiny, sad plastic packages of herbs at the grocery store, I smugly pat myself on the back because I am getting a great bang for my buck by growing lots of different kinds.

When to Plant: Some tender herbs like basil like it when it’s warmer out, so don’t plant those until late May early June. Other herbs such as chives, like it cooler, so plant them earlier in the year. It really depends on the herb.

Growing requirements: The cool thing about herbs is that you can usually tuck them into corners of pots that you’ve already planted other vegetables in. For example, I often grown basil plants along with my tomatoes in the same container. Otherwise, plant them in small pots that you can move around. Find out the lighting your herbs like best by testing out different spots in the garden.

Varieties: Once you’ve gotten growing basic grocery store herbs like basil, parsley, and thyme down, try fancier herbs. I’m growing multiple types of basil this year and experimenting with growing various herbs for medicinal purposes.

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<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

So, You’re Starting Your First Garden: 5 Things to Think About Before Digging In

When we bought our house six years ago, the first thing I decided to do was to grow a garden. My granny had a green thumb and passed it on to me. She grew up on a farm and, despite living in cramped quarters in our southside Chicago apartment, I grew up surrounding by all of her plants. She’d always talk, wistfully, about moving home to Mississippi, back to the family farm where she could grow her own food and do plenty of fishing.

As COVID-19 spreads and stay-at-home orders threw us in lockdown across the country, many of you began to think about taking up gardening. (That and making sourdough starters.) I began to notice that gardening supplies were sold out everywhere and friends were on social media posting about tilling their first gardens. I also realized that many of you are making the same mistakes I did when I begin gardening. When I took the plunge, I basically knew nothing. For the past five years, I’ve essentially learned how to garden through trial-and-error and research; YouTube videos became my best friend. Now that I’ve learned a few things, I thought I’d share them with you.

Before you dig that first hole, here are a few questions you might consider.

1. Why are you gardening?

Are you doing it as a way to relax and relieve anxiety? Are you attempting to become more sustainable? Is the spread of coronavirus creating food anxiety and your answer is to start a garden? Are you trying to supplement your diet with fresh veggies? Do you plan to do it for the long-term? Figuring out why you want to garden can help you determine what to actually grow and how much time, effort, and money you want to spend.

2. What’s your space like?

This may be the single most important consideration. Maybe you live in a tiny apartment with only a back porch or balcony rather than in a house with a backyard. Never fear—you can grow a garden in the tightest of spaces. Greens like lettuce and herbs like basil can be tucked in small out-of-the-way spots. If you only get filtered rather than full sunlight, you will have to pick plants that can tolerate partial shade like, for example, greens like collards, spinach, and lettuce. Veggies like tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers thrive in full sun, and need at least eight hours a day.

3. How long is the growing season?

One of the banes of my gardening existence is the shortness of Chicago’s growing season. If you live in a similar climate, it’s too late to grow many plants from seeds. Peppers, some herbs, and some flowers have months-long growing seasons. If you want to start them from seed, you have to do so in February and March, inside under grow lights; your best bet is to source plants from local nurseries instead. However, you still have time to plant some seeds inside and direct sow seeds outside. I planted six different varieties of tomato seeds about a week ago, but your time for starting seeds indoors is running out.

4. What do you actually eat?

I wanted to grow everything under the sun when I first started gardening. I grew watermelons that never really ripened because of Chicago’s short growing season. The butternut squash grew out of control, taking over the whole plot, and no one in my household really liked butternut squash except for me. I didn’t realize that to get a decent amount of some crops, like beans or strawberries, for example, you have to sow WAY MORE than the two seedlings you planted. I didn’t have a true plan for my garden, and you could tell from my haphazard results. I began to think about the veggies that my family frequently eats, and from those, which veggies were inexpensive and easily obtained from the grocery store. I designed my garden around my family needs and have had a much better outcome.

5. How much do you want to invest?

Growing a garden is a commitment—nurturing seedlings, pulling never-ending weeds, regular watering and pruning, and spending lots of $$$. In fact, until you get the hang of it, it’ll probably be more expensive to grow your veggies than buying them from the store. But, the rewards of growing your own food is worth it—it’s a hobby that encourages you to be healthier, have a more sustainable relationship with the earth, and is a fantastic stress reliever. I wish you a happy gardening journey!

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

So, It’s Not Just a Weed: 3 Ways to Use Common Comfrey

One of my garden’s most resilient and beneficial perennial plants is comfrey. Long dismissed as an invasive weed, gardeners are giving it a second look because of its powerful fertilizing and healing capabilities. According to clinical herbalist Kathleen Wildwood, who founded the Verona, Wisc.-based Wildwood Institute, comfrey leaves, and especially the roots, contain a hefty amount of allantoin, a phytochemical, or plant chemical, that speeds up cell repair.

“Comfrey is so good at repairing bones that it is known as ‘knitbone,’ so the bone needs to be set correctly before you start using it,” she says. “Comfrey also has uses for the respiratory system, and can treat, for example, bronchitis and sore throats; colitis, stomach inflammation, and ulcers; and interstitial cystitis and overactive bladder.”

Benefits of Comfrey

It spreads vigorously and can grow almost anywhere—prolifically, so I keep it controlled in a pot. Gardeners primarily grow the container friendly cultivar Russian Bocking 14, which can be identified by its purple flowers. Often, it is used as a green mulch to feed other plants; I plan to till the leaves and flowers into the soil to enrich it for next year’s crop. I also intend to use comfrey to help me extend my garden’s vitality well into the winter by drying the herb and then using it make a salve for cuts and scrapes, as well as for long infusions to drink throughout the season.

Comfrey can be applied externally as a salve, ointment, compress—or even just its leaves—to treat, for example, joint inflammatory disorders, wounds, bone fractures, and gout, according to Wildwood.

“An infused oil or ointment made of comfrey leaves or root speeds healing of wounds so effectively that one caution is that you cannot use it on a deep cut, because it will heal the top over so quickly that you can end up with an infection underneath,” she says. “But if it is not a deep wound, it will heal wounds and strengthen skin. You can even just rehydrate a large leaf with hot water, wrap it around a twisted ankle, then cover with plastic wrap or a towel.”


Wildwoods cautions that before you make any kind of infusion, however, you should be sure you’re using the correct species of comfrey, Symphytum uplandica x. She says the best way to identify safe comfrey is by the color of the flowers. “The one with the purple or blue flowers is safe internally or externally because they have been bred to eliminate toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids,” Wildwood explains, which can damage the liver.

Internally, Wildwood says comfrey can be ingested as an herbal tea or infusion to treat, for example, gastric ulcers, rheumatic pain, arthritis, bronchitis, and colitis, and it’s her favorite way to use the dried leaves.

“Clients who have torn muscles, popped tendons, twisted ankles or who have fragile skin are all helped by using comfrey leaf long infusion internally for several months, allowing those body parts to be less fragile, more-stretchy, and resilient,” she says. “For this reason, it is also helpful for women older than 40 who want to become pregnant. In addition, the amino acids in comfrey are useful for brain development in a fetus.”

Are you ready to make your own ointment and long infusions? Check out the following recipes.

Recipe: How to Make a Long Herbal Oil Infusion

  1. Fill a one-pint jar with a tight-fitting lid about halfway to two-thirds full with dried comfrey leaves. Cover leaves with preferred carrier oil (such as olive, avocado, coconut, or grapeseed).
  2. To make a long oil infusion, leave for six weeks and shake the jar a couple of times a day. After six weeks, strain the oil through cheesecloth.
  3. Add a 1/2 teaspoon of vitamin E to help preserve the oil. You can also add a few drops of essential oils like rosemary, lavender, or chamomile to make your oil even more beneficial.

Recipe: How to Make an Herbal Salve

  1. Melt 1/3 cup beeswax pastilles in a double-boiler.
  2. Add about 1 1/2 cups of infused comfrey oil to the melted beeswax.
  3. Pour into jar or metal tins and cool.

Recipe: How to Make a Long Herbal Infusion

  1. Take one ounce of chosen dried herb, such as comfrey.
  2. Place in a canning jar. Use a one-quart jar for leaves (such as comfrey), or hardy flowers (such as red clover), one-pint jar for roots, barks, or berries (such as burdock root or rose hips).
  3. Cover completely with boiling water, stir with chopstick or knife and add more water until full.
  4. Place lid on and let sit four-to-eight hours for leaves or hardy flowers, eight hours for roots. Many people make their infusions in the evening and then strain them in the morning.
  5. When done brewing, strain and refrigerate. Infusion will keep for 48 hours in the refrigerator. (After that, the proteins start to break down and the brew will taste off.)
  6. Infusions may be reheated (preferably do not boil, but it is still OK to drink if it does), iced, sweetened, milk added, etc. Some do well with salt or tamari, such as nettle.

Recipe courtesy Kathleen Raven Wildwood, © 2015.

Story originally published at Spirituality & Health.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

4 Super Greens to Grow in Your Spring or Fall Garden

By Tequia Burt

Greens are not just for salads. With different kinds grown all over the world, greens can taste sweet, bitter, spicy, or earthy and can be used in a wide variety of stir fries, soups, pasta, smoothies, and more.

Not only are they delicious, but greens pack a powerful health punch. They are an important part of a healthy diet and are usually abundant in a variety of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Eating a diet rich in greens can help you improve your blood pressure, boost your immune system, enhance your cardiovascular health, and even sharpen your mental capabilities.

Greens are easy to grow in the early days of spring and don’t take up much space. If you’ve missed the spring window, which is easy to do in Chicago, you can plan these as fall crops. Whether you have a garden in your back yard, a deck, or patio, you can grow greens. With shelter in place orders cropping up across the country as the coronavirus spreads, it’s never been a better time to focus on your garden. Try growing these four super greens to both support your health (mental and physical) and stock your larder.



Orach is an ancient green experiencing a comeback after 4,000 years. Though its origins are difficult to pinpoint, it has been mentioned in the texts of ancient Roman philosophers and held the honor of being the most popular leafy green in Eurasia before spinach even appeared on the scene, according to the Baker Creek Heirloom Whole Seed Catalog.

Containing twice as much vitamin C as lemon, Orach is jam-packed with vitamins, including magnesium, anthocyanins, phosphorous, iron, protein, zinc, selenium, tryptophan, vitamin K, carotenes, and dietary fiber. An immune boosting powerhouse, orach may improve digestion, heart health and is a potent anti-inflammatory.

Orach can be eaten raw or substituted in any recipe requiring spinach or chard. This Thai Green Curry with Red Orach recipe showcases the green’s versatility. It comes in a dazzling array of colors, so not only will you get a vitamin-packed green, but it also looks lovely in the garden or in a planter on the back porch. Orach is adapted to both heat and cold and even grows in poor soil. Start seeds in the spring as early as the soil can be worked. Though it is slower to bolt than spinach in summertime heat, try to sow seeds in a place that gets partial shade. With germination temps of between 50 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, seeds should sprout within seven to 14 days. Buy seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds.



Just one ounce of mache, aka corn salad, contains 18 percent of your daily requirement for vitamin A, almost as much vitamin C as an orange, and as much iron as spinach. It’s strong antioxidant effect helps improve immune function and can be a powerful aid in fighting colds and flus. It may also help lower blood pressure, improve eye health and brain function, and ease osteoporosis.

With its slightly nutty flavor and buttery soft texture, mache is a versatile salad green that is popular with foodies and chefs across the country. Try this Mache and Herb Power Salad to take advantage of the deeply nutritious greens and spring herbs.

This tender green is an excellent cold weather crop and doesn’t require much care. It is so cold hardy that it can even be grown in winter and can even withstand temperature below zero. Though it often grows wild in corn fields and can be foraged, mache can also be grown in your garden or in a container. Since warmer temps can slow germination, it’s best to sow mache seeds in the ground as soon as you can work the soil. Since it is commonly grown in the U.S., seeds aren’t hard to find in local garden centers or from online vendors.



Molokhia—or Mulukhiyah, molohiya, mloukhiya, Egyptian Spinach, or Jute depending on where you are in the world—is a highly nutritious green common in Middle Eastern and Egyptian cuisine. It provides loads of fiber, potassium, iron, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and selenium, as well as vitamins C, E, K, A, B6, and niacin. This supergreen reportedly lowers blood pressure, improves circulation, digestion, sleep, bone health, and eyesight, as well as boosts the immune system and reduces inflammation.

With a texture akin to okra, molokhia is usually made into a soup or stew and can be eaten alone or with a protein. Though it is a perfect for planting in cool springtime temperatures, unlike most other greens, it thrives in the summer heat! The seeds can be sown directly in the ground in the spring after all chance of frost has passed and after 60 days harvested throughout the summer. When cold fall weather arrives, the green begins producing small yellow flowers and starts to bolt.

Molokhia is not commonly grown in the U.S, however, you can find seeds on Etsy. Try this recipe for Jute Mallow Soup to get all the benefits of this supergreen.



Mizuna—or Japanese mustard greens, spider mustard, water greens, or kyona—is a cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, cauliflower, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Cultivated for centuries in Kyoto, Japan, mizuna is a cornerstone of Japanese and Buddhist culinary traditions.

Rich in vitamins A, C, and K, mizuna is a highly nourishing green. It contains multiple antioxidants, including anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer kaempferol and quercetin. What’s more, mizuna’s high levels of beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin can improve eye health by fighting cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and protecting your retina from oxidative damage and age-related macular degeneration.

With its slightly bitter and spicy flavor, mizuna can be used raw in salads or cooked or pickled.  The fresh peppery flavor complements a variety of other greens and salads, and it is delicious in soups, stir fries, pasta, and even on top of pizza. For a vegetarian pasta dish, try this Mizuna Pesto recipe.

One of the most bolt-resistant brassicas, mizuna is an excellent cold weather crop and should be sowed early in spring. Find mizuna seeds at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Originally published at Spirituality & Health.

<span class="has-inline-color has-vivid-red-color">Tequia Burt</span>
Tequia Burt

Tequia Burt is a Chicago-based editor, writer, content creator, and brand storyteller with 20 years of experience. In addition to being the Editor in Chief of Backyard Chicago Garden, she is the Founder-CEO of Content[ed.], which provides custom content and strategy to businesses.

Architect of Rock ‘n’ Roll Little Richard Dies at 87

Richard Wayne Penniman, the “architect of rock ‘n’ roll” better known as Little Richard, has died, according to Rolling Stone. The cause of death was bone cancer, the musician’s lawyer Bill Sobel told Rolling Stone. After surviving a heart attack in 2013, he retired and had largely remained out of the public eye.

When the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer flamboyantly burst on the scene in the 1950s sporting a mile-high pompadour, mascara-coated eyelashes and pancake foundation makeup, wailing with a gender-bending falsetto all while pounding the piano, Penniman was, indeed, unlike any performer who had ever been seen before. He was an expert at working adoring crowds into a frenzy and gave us such enduring classics as “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’” and “The Girl Can’t Help It.”

“Sexually ambiguous, loudmouthed and just plain noisy, Little Richard was like a visitor from another planet transported to the segregated South of the 1950s,” declared  the Los Angeles Times in 2000.

Little Richard performing Tutti Frutti in 1955

Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia, on Dec. 5, 1932, and was one of 12 children. While his devout Seventh-Day Adventist family failed to support his musical interest, singing gospel and learning piano at their local church was all the succor Penniman needed.

At 15-years-old, his parents threw him out, he claimed, because he was a “sissy.” However, Ann and Johnny Johnson, the white couple who ran the Tick Tock Club in Macon, adopted Penniman.

In the late 1940s, he entered his adopted parent’s world of vaudeville. He performed in drag in a red evening gown as Princess Lavonne in Sugarfoot Sam’s Minstrel Show. While Penniman always remained coy about his sexuality — he admitted to being attracted to both men and women — that vagueness was calculated. He once told a musician complaining about having to use makeup for their performance:

“You know how many coloreds play here? None. I am the first. I am the only. You want to call me a sissy, go ahead. Knock yourself out, boy. But you make sure to call me a rich sissy.”

Penniman achieved breakthrough success in 1955 with “Tutti Frutti,” which he wrote when he was working as a dishwasher at a Greyhound bus station in his hometown. In a later interview, he revealed how he came up with the song:

“I couldn’t talk back to my boss man. He would bring all these pots back for me to wash, and one day I said, ‘I’ve got to do something to stop this man bringing back all these pots to me to wash,’ and I said, ‘Awap bop a lup bop a wop bam boom, take ’em out!’ and that’s what I meant at the time. And so I wrote ‘Tutti Frutti’ in the kitchen, I wrote ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ in the kitchen, I wrote ‘Long Tall Sally’ in that kitchen.”

The song was a sanitized version of a dirty ditty — the original lyrics are “Tutti Frutti/ Good booty/If it don’t fit/Don’t force it/You can grease it/Make it easy” — cleaned up with the aim of drawing a white audience. He had often performed the original version for black audiences in the Chitlin’ Circuit, a network of black-only nightclubs in the South where trailblazing musicians like Penniman, James Brown, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, Otis Redding, Lena Horne, Etta James and B.B. King got their start.

The more-wholesome adaptation sold more than a million copies — to both black and white teenaged fans, much to the chagrin of their scandalized parents. As the Civil Rights Movement gained traction, Penniman helped to break down color barriers by attracting a mixed-race audience during a period of entrenched racial segregation.

Little Richard performing Good Golly, Miss Molly in 1958

“You have to remember, I was the first black artist whose records the white kids were starting to buy. And the parents were really bitter about me,” he told Rolling Stone in 2010. “We played places where they told us not to come back, because the kids got so wild. They were tearing up the streets and throwing bottles and jumping off the theater balconies at shows. At that time, the white kids had to be up in the balcony — they were ‘white spectators.’ But then they’d leap over the balcony to get downstairs where the black kids were.”

Penniman’s crossover success was instrumental in spreading rock ‘n’ roll to white audiences. But his popularity only took him so far. “Elvis was paid $25,000 for doing three songs in a movie and I only got $5,000 for the same work, so if I didn’t break the ice, Elvis would have starved,” Penniman once observed.

Nonetheless, he remains one of the most influential figures in music across genres, inspiring artists like James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Michael Jackson, Patti Smith, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Even Pat Boone, who released a cover of “Tutti Frutti,” gave Penniman his bona fides: “No one person has been imitated more than Little Richard.”