Lloyd George Richards was born in Toronto, Canada on June 29, 1919. When he was four years old, his family moved to Detroit, Michigan in order to attain a better life. His father, who hailed from Jamaica, was a follower of Black nationalist, entrepreneur and orator, Marcus Garvey, founder and President-General of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL). Richards, who was a master carpenter, sought to gain employment in an automobile plant of Ford Motor Company, founded by Henry Ford.
When Lloyd was nine years old, tragedy struck the Richards family; his father died, having suffered from diphtheria. His mother, who did domestic work, tried very hard to keep their family intact and take care of their five children in the midst of The Great Depression. Life for the Richards was fraught with trials and poverty. When Lloyd was thirteen years old, his mother lost her eyesight. In order to support the Richards family, Lloyd and his older brother, Allan, worked odd jobs, including sweeping floors in local barber shops and shining shoes. Obituary writer Matt Schudel of The Washington Post reported Richards’ high regard for the significance of the barber shop in the Black community when Richards championed, “You’re listening in the barbershop, and you hear poetry, philosophy, sports … You’re hearing history; you’re hearing the elders speak.”
While in high school, Lloyd Richards became greatly interested in theatre arts, especially after reading the works of William Shakespeare. The Richards family believed in the value of education and, encouraged by his mother, heentered Wayne State University located in Detroit. Initially enrolled in pre-law, he followed his passion and became involved with acting and radio programming. Majoring in theatre, Richards graduated from Wayne State University in 1944.
Upon his graduation, he enlisted to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps. There was still segregation during World War II and this corps was not exempt. Richards served in the division of African-American fighter pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first division of Black pilots in the United States.
He returned to Detroit after completing his service in the military and began to work as a radio announcer and disc jockey. Whether on air in radio dramas or off air in local theatres, Lloyd Richards was becoming more skilled at his craft. He also joined an acting troupe and soon after, founded his own theatre group, to hone his talents.