Richardson was born to William F. and Amanda Richardson in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father worked in the meat-packing industry and his mother operated a beauty parlor in their home for more than 30 years. He had one sister, Vickilyn Reynolds, and two brothers, the Reverend W. Franklyn Richardson and Raymond Lloyd Richardson. Richardson was highly influenced by the music at his family's church where he started singing at age 4. In high school he began studying singing seriously and performed in choirs and dinner theater musicals. He also studied music composition. After highschool, Richardson entered the University of the Arts (Philadelphia), where he studied voice and played roles in classic musicals such as Show Boat, Camelot, and Man of La Mancha.
In 1977, Richardson played Sportin' Life in the Houston Grand Opera production of Porgy and Bess. Richardson's first role on Broadway was as the Chief of Police in the 1978 musical Timbuktu! Over the next several years, Richardson appeared in several regional theatre and opera productions and was in the 1983 National tour of Dreamgirls, but it wasn't until his award-winning performance as Jim in the 1985 Broadway musical Big River that Richardson became widely known. After Big River closed in 1987, Richardson toured London, St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Japan in concerts and in singing roles. He appeared at The American Place Theater in Leslie Lee's Ground People and starred as Husky Miller in the Old Vic revival of Carmen Jones. Richardson also appeared in two more Broadway productions during the early 1990s, Oh, Kay! and The Boys Choir of Harlem and Friends.
Richardson died of an AIDS related illness at age of 43 in Bronxville, New York.
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