What Little Richard taught these music legends: From soul to sex

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ATLANTA - CIRCA 1952: Little Richard poses for an early portrait circa 1952 in Atlanta, Georga. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)
Little Richard in 1952.Getty Images

The architect of rock-and-roll itself left the building when Little Richard died at 87 from bone cancer at his home in Nashville Saturday morning.

The influential Grammy winner — born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia, circa 1932 — signed his first record deal with RCA in 1951, and soared up the top 40 charts with iconic hits such as “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.”

Legendary for his gender-bending style, gospel-meets-rock vocals and pulse-pounding piano riffs, the spirit of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer will live on in the music of the many other legends he influenced — and some of whom he outlived.

Here are some of the all-time greats who learned from Little Richard.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder in 1975.
Stevie Wonder in 1975.Getty Images

The exuberant piano playing of Little Stevie Wonder as a child prodigy definitely owed something to the keyed-up style of Little Richard. When a 15-year-old Wonder was banging on those ivories on his 1965 hit “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” there was a joyous mix of soul, gospel and blues that captured the boisterous spirit of Little Richard. Like the “Tutti Frutti” singer, it was anything but uptight.

Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger in 1976.
Mick Jagger in 1976.Getty Images

The Rolling Stones frontman surely learned everything about the art of the preen from the originator: Little Richard. And long before there were lips like Jagger, the “Good Golly, Miss Molly” singer had perfected his pout. But beyond that, Jagger got in touch with his feminine side in a way that Little Richard had done before him, freeing him from the rules of rock-star masculinity.

Paul McCartney

Stevie Wonder in 1975.
Paul McCartney in 1975.Getty Images

The Beatles singer-songwriter may not seem as obvious of a Little Richard descendant as Jagger. But The Fab Four once opened for the artist born Richard Wayne Penniman. And during this time, Little Richard schooled Sir Paul on his vocalizations, including his signature “Wooo,” no doubt putting more soul into the Brit’s singing.

Elton John

Elton John in 2004.
Elton John in 2004.Getty Images

The way the Rocket Man attacks the keys is surely fueled by Little Richard’s all-out style. You can hear Richard all over the boogie woogie of Elton classics such as “Crocodile Rock” and “Honky Cat.” And “The Bitch Is Back” owes its sassy swag to the O.G. bitch, too. But beyond his powerhouse piano playing, John’s outrageous fashion sense displayed the kind of big, larger-than-life personality that came from Little Richard.

Prince

Prince in 2015
Prince in 2015Getty Images

The spine-tingling screams of the late Prince Rogers Nelson were inspired by the ecstatic wail of Little Richard, who seemed to be possessed by the holy spirit whenever he would let loose with a raspy yell. But in creating his visual persona, Prince also borrowed from Little Richard — from his big “Purple Rain” hair to his flamboyant clothes to his penchant for eyeliner. And when it came to his stage theatrics, Prince learned from the best, too.

Bette Midler

Brian Wilson

Joan Jett

Gene Simmons


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