Little Richard, one of the chief architects of rock ‘n’ roll whose piercing wail, pounding piano and towering pompadour irrevocably altered popular music while introducing black R&B to white America, has died after battling bone cancer. He was 87.
Pastor Bill Minson, a close friend of Little Richard’s said that Little Richard died Saturday morning, local time. His son, Danny Jones Penniman, also confirmed his father’s death, which was first reported by Rolling Stone.
Born Richard Penniman, Little Richard was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers who helped shatter the colour line on the music charts, joining Chuck Berry and Fats Domino in bringing what was once called “race music” into the mainstream.
Richard’s hyperkinetic piano playing, coupled with his howling vocals and hairdo, made him an implausible sensation — a gay, black man celebrated across America during the buttoned-down Eisenhower era.
He sold more than 30 million records worldwide, and his influence on other musicians was equally staggering, from the Beatles and Otis Redding to Creedence Clearwater Revival and David Bowie.
In his personal life, he wavered between raunch and religion, alternately embracing the Good Book and outrageous behaviour and looks - mascara-lined eyes, pencil-thin moustache and glittery suits.
It was 1956 when his classic Tutti Frutti landed like a hand grenade in the Top 40, exploding from radios and off turntables across America. It was highlighted by Richard’s memorable call of “wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom.”
A string of hits followed, providing the foundation of rock music: Lucille, Keep A Knockin’, Long Tall Sally, Good Golly Miss Molly. More than 40 years after the latter charted, Bruce Springsteen was still performing Good Golly Miss Molly live.
Legends of music mourn the loss of Little Richard
When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in 1986, he was among the charter members with Elvis Presley, Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke and others.
“It is with a heavy heart that I ask for prayers for the family of my lifelong friend and fellow rocker Little Richard,” said Lewis, 84, in a statement provided by his publicist. “He will live on always in my heart with his amazing talent and his friendship! He was one of a kind and I will miss him dearly. God bless his family and fans.”
Mick Jagger called Little Richard “the biggest inspiration of my early teens” in a social media post overnight.
“His music still has the same raw electric energy when you play it now as it did when it first shot through the music scene in the mid 50’s,” Jagger wrote.
“When we were on tour with him I would watch his moves every night and learn from him how to entertain and involve the audience and he was always so generous with advice to me. He contributed so much to popular music. I will miss you Richard, God bless.”
On Sunday morning, AEST, folk and rock music icon Bob Dylan reacted to the news of his passing.
“I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved. He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do,” he wrote on social media.
“I played some shows with him in Europe in the early nineties and got to hang out in his dressing room a lot. He was always generous, kind and humble. And still dynamite as a performer and a musician and you could still learn plenty from him.
“In his presence he was always the same Little Richard that I first heard and was awed by growing up and I always was the same little boy. Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone.”
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