Little Richard, the energetic, flamboyant and undisputed architect of Rock N’ Roll music, has died. He was 87. His death was confirmed by his son, Danny Jones Penniman. He did not mention the cause of death.
Starting with “Tutti Frutti” in 1956, Little Richard had a series of hits with a style of music people hadn’t heard before. “Tutti Frutti” was followed up by other hits, “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” that same year, “Lucille” in 1957, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958. His energic piano banging, coupled with gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged lyrics helped Richard climb to the top and influenced everyone from Prince to Elton John. “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think.
The Beatles adopted his trademark sound, including the crowd-raising, “Woooo!” Paul McCartney said that the first song he ever sang in public was “Long Tall Sally,” which he later recorded with the Beatles. And Bob Dylan wrote in his high school yearbook that his ambition was “to join Little Richard.”
Over the past decade, Little Richard has had health trouble. In 2012, he suffered horribly from sciatica and a degenerating hip caused Little Richard (born Richard Penniman) to perform only sparingly in recent years and hasn’t always managed to play up to his usual standards. In June 2012, he was forced to stop a show, telling the crowd, “Jesus, please help me – I can’t hardly breathe. It’s horrible.”
He recovered sufficiently to headline at 2013′s Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend. This was after Richard suffered a heart attack and told how he didn’t even realize he was having one when it happened and right before he was in a car accident.
Born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5th, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, Richard was one of 12 children and grew up in the church. As a matter of fact, nearly all of his uncles were preachers. “I was born in the slums. My daddy sold whiskey, bootleg whiskey,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970. Although he sang in a nearby church, his father Bud wasn’t supportive of his son’s music and accused him of being gay, resulting in Penniman leaving home at 13 and moving in with a family in Macon who was white.
He never abandoned his love of music and when he heard R&B, blues, and country while working at a concession stand at the Macon City Auditorium, he was hooked.
After performing at the Tick Tock Club in Macon and winning a local talent show, Penniman landed his first