Saturday, May 9, 2020

Rock and roll pioneer Little Richard dead at 87

Rock and roll pioneer Little Richard died in Nashville, TN on May 9 at the age of 87.

The legendary musician’s son, Danny Jones Penniman, confirmed his father’s passing to Rolling Stone, with the singer’s lawyer Bill Sobel noting that the cause of death was bone cancer.

Born Richard Penniman in Macon, GA in 1932 as the third of twelve children in a religious family, the future music icon was originally inspired by gospel and grew up singing in church before Ike Turner’s 1951 single, “Rocket 88” – considered by historians to be the first rock and roll record – inspired him to learn piano, with another main influence being Esquerita, a South Carolina singer who also wore his hair in a high black pompadour.

Richard got his first break while working at a concession stand at the Macon City Auditorium, where gospel artist Sister Rosetta Tharpe heard him singing before her concert at the venue and hired him to open the show.

After his father kicked him out of his home at 15 over his sexuality, Richard moved in with another family and began performing at a local venue they owned, The Tick Tock Club, before landing his first record deal, with RCA, in 1951. A few singles followed without much success before the singer signed with Specialty Records and issued his landmark 1955 hit, “Tutti Frutti”; backed up by Fats Domino’s band, the song hit No. 2 on the R&B charts and the Top 20 on Billboard's pop charts while going on to sell a million copies.

Richard’s next single, “Long Tall Sally”, was just as successful and began a string of era-defining hits like “Rip It Up”, “Lucille”, “Jenny, Jenny” and “Good Golly, Miss Molly.”

The singer’s early hits and over-the-top vocal and performance style helped establish the foundation of rock and roll, influencing his contemporaries and everything that followed, including The Beatles, Elton John, Jimi Hendrix and Prince, among countless others.

Little Richard was one of the 10 original inductees into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1986, and in 1993, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.