Little Richard, one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll and whose flamboyance and fire were just as much his calling cards as his pompadour, eyeliner and piano pounding, died Saturday at his brother’s home in Nashville. He was 87. The cause of death was bone cancer.
Richard, whose machine gun delivery, “Wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom” from the classic “Tutti Frutti” is arguably the greatest opening line to a rock song, influenced everyone from The Beatles to David Bowie to The Rolling Stones to Elton John to Prince.
Richard’s agent, Dick Alen, told People Little Richard was battling cancer “for a good while, many years. I last spoke to him about two or three weeks ago. I knew he wasn’t well but he never really got into it, he just would say ‘I’m not well.’ He’s been suffering for many years with various aches and pains. He just wouldn’t talk about it much.”
Born Richard Penniman, Little Richard was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers who helped shatter the color barrier 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 outrageous hairdo, made him an implausible sensation — a gay, black man celebrated across America during the buttoned-down Eisenhower era.
Richard emerged on the scene with “Tutti Frutti” in 1956 and served up several more top-selling singles such as “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Slippin’ and Slidin’” and “Lucille.”
His death rocked the world from politicians to musicians to filmmakers.
“With his exuberance, his creativity, and his refusal to be anything other than himself, Little Richard laid the foundation for generations of artists to follow. We are so lucky to have had him. Sending all my love to his family and friends today,” former first lady Michelle Obama tweeted.
“I’m so saddened to hear about the passing of Little Richard, he was the biggest inspiration of my early teens and 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,” Mick Jagger wrote on social media. “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.”
Fellow wildman Jerry Lee Lewis said Little Richard “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.”
Elton John wrote on Instagram that Little Richard, “Without a doubt — musically, vocally and visually” was his biggest influence, noting, “His records still sound fresh and the opening few seconds of “Tutti Frutti” are the most explosive in music history.”
Keith Richards tweeted, “There will never be another!!! He was the true spirit of Rock’nRoll.”
Oscar winner Spike Lee tweeted “Rest In Peace to One of The True Creators of Rock And Roll.”
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