Rock’n’roll legend Little Richard dies at 87


Little Richard, the electrifying and flamboyant showman whose classic airs helped stimulate the explosion of rock’n’roll and influenced countless musicians, has died. He was 87 years old.

Pastor Bill Minson, a close friend of the rocker, told the Associated Press that Little Richard died on Saturday morning. Her son Danny Jones Penniman also confirmed the death of Richard, who was first reported by Rolling Stone.

Bill Sobel, Little Richard’s lawyer for over three decades, told the AP in an email that the musician died of bone cancer in a family home in Tullahoma, Tenn.

“He was not only an iconic and legendary musician, but he was also a kind, empathetic and insightful human being,” said Sobel.

The artist had been in poor health for years. He suffered a heart attack in 2013 and six years earlier, while still on tour, he needed the help of an assistant and a cane to get on stage.

Little Richard’s influence in popular music is almost incalculable, his primacy reflected in his inclusion among the very first group of inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

Watch: Highlights from Little Richard’s Life:

Born Richard Wayne Penniman, little Richard died Saturday morning, according to a pastor who was a close friend. His music has helped lay the foundation for rock and roll and has influenced countless musicians. 0:58

“Little Richard? It’s rock ‘n’ roll, ”said Neil Young, who heard Richard’s riffs on Canadian radio, to biographer Jimmy McDonough. “Little Richard has been great on all records. “

Only Chuck Berry could also credibly claim to be the first to transcend the color barrier among fans of early rock’n’roll. But while Berry’s influence was largely contained in subsequent rock and blues artists, Little Richard also had enthusiasts who continued to make their mark in modern soul and R&B.

Kelvin Holly, longtime guitarist of Little Richard, paid tribute to him on Instagram.

Over the decades, his songs would be taken up in just about every genre of music, by artists as diverse as Queen, Waylon Jennings, MC5 and Sharon, Lois and Bram.

Tutti Frutti, his first major success, tops the list of a panel gathered by Mojo Magazine in 2007 to consider the “100 records that changed the world”. Song # 2 on this list was I want to hold your hand by The Beatles, a group that simply covered many of Little Richard’s songs, opened for him in their beginnings in Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany, and was known to include a “Woo!” Richardesque or the like in their recordings from the early to mid-1960s.

“For me, the first loud, wild voice I ever heard was Little Richard,” said Paul McCartney to another Rolling Stones fan, Ron Wood, in an interview in 2013. “It all comes from gospel and it’s was just amazing. “

Ambition: “Join Little Richard”

Whether by looks, staging or sound, those he influenced included James Brown and Otis Redding – like Richard, with roots in Georgia – to Elton John and Tina Turner.

The list also includes two famous artists who preceded him in death in 2016. David Bowie has already noticed that the appearance of Little Richard in the 1956 film Girl can’t help he helped put him on his career path. At the height of its popularity in the 1980s, Prince’s look was a spitting image of the pianist.

“Darling Nikki presents some of the most frantic cries of the piano and leather since Little Richard,” wrote journalist Robert Palmer in his article on Prince York. Purple rain in 1984.

Even when the music didn’t necessarily sound like Little Richard, the fandom and influence were noted. It has been said that under “Ambition” in his yearbook, a high school student from Hibbing, Minn., Who would soon change his name from Robert Zimmerman, wrote: “To join Little Richard. “

He was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia on December 5, 1932, the third of 12 children.

As a young boy, he adored his mother, but had a contentious relationship with his bootlegger father.

“Richard was the most annoying of them. He was very mischievous, always embarking on tricks “, his mother, Leva Mae, would later note in an authorized biography, 1985 The life and times of Little Richard: the quasar of rock by Charles White.

While the artist agreed with this assessment, he also recalled difficult times in his hometown for reasons beyond his control.

Sacred and profane

“I went through a lot when I was a kid. They called me sissy, punk, freak … “, he said.

From the first days, the sacred and the profane were themes that crossed his life.

Little Richard aspired to be a preacher, and along with his siblings performed gospel songs as The Penniman Singers. Singers such as Mahalia Jackson, Ruth Brown and Sister Rosetta Thorpe were his biggest influences, although he also considered Fats Domino in high esteem.

While music and the church stirred his soul, he also said he was introduced to gay sex by adults when he was a teenager. As he made contradictory statements over the years about his modesty – at one point “rejecting” homosexuality – he had apparently accepted his identity later in life.

“I have been gay all my life and know that God is a God of love, not hate,” he told Penthouse magazine in the 1990s.


Little Richard’s first official recording session was for RCA in late 1951, but nothing resonated with the public. When his father was shot and killed in an argument with an acquaintance about a year later, his professional aspirations put an end to family obligations.

Richard was washing dishes at a Greyhound bus station when his musical dreams were rejuvenated through a connection with Lloyd Price, the singer of Lawdy Miss Clawdy and Personality.

As a result, he found his way to New Orleans in 1955 under the auspices of Specialty Records, a ten-year-old label specializing in black gospel and R&B.

“When I entered, there is this cat in this noisy shirt, with wavy hair six inches above his head. He was talking wild, imagining things just to be different, you know? I could say he was a mega-personality, “recalls record producer Bumps Blackwell.

After cutting a few common faces, the song that changed everything came after three takes and 15 minutes: A-WOP-BOP-A-LOO-MOP-ALOP-BAM-BOOM.

Little Richard performed at the Domino Effect charity concert at the New Orleans Arena in 2013. A portion of the proceeds was used to improve playgrounds and schools in New Orleans. (Patrick Semansky / The Associated Press)

The lyrics have been cleaned up from its original, “Tutti Frutti, good booty. “

“Even in the less suggestive version that was eventually released, Little Richard’s unique vocalization of the irresistible rhythm heralded a new era in music,” said a statement from the US Library of Congress nearly 55 years later, when the song was among those selected for preservation.

But even these lyric changes weren’t enough for some white radio stations in the 1950s. Pat Boone struck a blow with his much less frenzied version of Tutti Frutti, and Elvis Presley also covered the song.

Hysterical fans

However, Richard’s arrival on the scene was seismic. With his fine mustache like a pencil, his exaggerated conch hairstyle and his pointed costumes, he made a good impression even before playing a note. But his fervent song of screams, while standing upright on the piano, was what really resonated in magazines and on screen in DJ Alan Freed’s rock n ’roll movies.

“I couldn’t believe the power of Little Richard on stage … no one could beat Little Richard’s stage act,” said Mick Jagger. The shows had to be interrupted occasionally due to hysterical fans.

Follow-up efforts, all noisy and popular, included Long Tall Sally, Good Golly Miss Molly, Ready Teddy, Lucille, Rip It Up and Keep a hit‘.

Little Richard is shown with fellow music legends Chuck Berry, center, and Bo Diddley, right, at an event in Beverly Hills, California, in May 2002. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Young audiences on both sides of the Atlantic have had it in, but many parents, journalists and religious leaders have denounced the new musical form and the influence that Richard and Berry had on white teens.

Crazy performances and suggestive songs were accompanied by off-stage escapades. He talked about taking advantage of the “smorgasbord” of what consenting adults could do, his traveling companion often a stripper named Lee Angel.

On a tour of Australia in 1957, Little Richard announced that he was giving up everything. He felt the tug of religion, attended a Bible college in Alabama, and even had a short marriage.

Bad business

He was brought back on stage in the 1960s; like many black artists, the rights to publish his songs were removed as a condition for entering the studio.

“I had signed a very bad agreement with Specialty,” he noted later in his biography. “I got half a cent for each record sold. Anyone who’s heard of cutting a penny in half! “

Richard got to know the Beatles in late 1962 in Europe. His support group Upsetters in the first half of this decade would include future stars Jimi Hendrix and Billy Preston.

He was well established on tour bills that included other artists who became famous in the 1950s. He was part of such a group at the Rock and Roll Revival festival at Varsity Stadium in Toronto in 1969, a show titled by John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Little Richard making the peace sign and wearing an extravagant outfit as he prepares to perform at Wembley Stadium in London in 1972. (Rosemary Matthews / Keystone Features / Getty Images)

“Looking into his spooky wig, flawless eyeshadow and cheerful manner, more like the drag queen of rock,” Richard delivered “an absolutely electrifying performance,” according to a Toronto Star reviewer.

He made a serious attempt to return shortly after this show. The Rill Thing was well received in 1970 and caused a minor blow, Freedom blues, co-authored by Esquerita, the cult artist who shared many of Richard’s stylistic and musical affections.

But even if his own songs were no longer overwritten, his imprint was never too far away. John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival, after the success of Travelin ‘Band, reached an amicable settlement at that time with the publishing company which held the rights Good Golly Miss Molly.

Richard regularly toured the variety shows circuit of television in the early 1970s, bringing his brand of braggadocio (“I’m the most handsome man in show business!”) And rhyming his surfeit of nicknames, which included the Bronze Liberace, the Georgia Peach, the King and Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

But her personal life peaked in the middle of the decade with the increase in cocaine and PCP use, and the death of one of her brothers.

He became a devout Seventh-day Adventist, even beating the floor to sell Bibles for a while.

Rock and roll icon Little Richard performs at a concert celebrating Chuck Berry’s 75th birthday at the Pageant Theater in St. Louis in 2001. (Tim Parker / File Photo / Reuters)

Personal life in order, Little Richard was acclaimed for his portrayal of Orvis Goodnight in the 1986 film Down and Out in Beverly Hills, but a serious car accident and a long recovery stopped momentum for a serious screen recovery. He generally appears as himself in film and television, including in Bill and Ted’s great adventure, Last action hero and The Drew Carey show.

He continued to play for several years. Cyndi Lauper and Little Steven of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band would call on Richard, an ordained minister, to perform their nuptials.

A 2000 television biopic directed by Robert Townsend earned lead actor Leon Robinson an Emmy Award nomination for his interpretation of the singer.

The man who was considered risky half a century earlier was asked about hip hop in a 2004 interview on American public television. Speak freely.

“It’s an art form and if you think it’s nothing, try singing a part of it,” said Little Richard.

He admitted: “Some people make me tremble. I heard these guys say things on these records that I didn’t know you could say on record! “

In the same interview, Richard marveled at his crazy run.

“God kept me here for a reason, and I never thought I would live to see this age. “


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