Little Richard, one of the architects of Rock and Roll, has died at age 87
Pioneering musical artist Little Richard, who created hits like "Tutti Frutti" and "Long Tall Sally," scandalized early rock audiences with his flamboyant performance style and raunchy lyrics, and inspired musicians from John Lennon to Prince, has died at the age of 87. His family confirmed his death to Rolling Stone.
Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon Georgia in 1932, where he counted Otis Redding among his childhood friends. The son of a church deacon, he learned to play gospel piano, and combined the music of his southern faith with blues and boogie woogie, adopting the stage name Little Richard while still a teenager.
Though he was first signed to RCA in 1951, he was still working as a dishwasher at a Macon bus station by the 1955 release of his breakthrough hit, "Tutti Frutti." "Long Tall Sally," followed the following year, and "Good Golly, Miss Molly" was released in 1958. With his innuendo-laden lyrics, boundary-pushing gender expression, and signature wailing, raucous performances, Little Richard scandalized his critics. Penniman's hits were infamously covered by Pat Boone, who presented a more commercially palatable white and conservative take on the songs. (Boone released his milquetoast version of "Tutti Frutti" just weeks after Little Richard did, and outsold the original. Penniman received no royalties for the cover.)
At the height of his success, Penniman abandoned musical life to attend Bible college and focus on his faith. He did not release secular music again until the 1960s, and was ordained as a minister in 1970.
In 1986, he was among the first-ever inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, alongside fellow rock pioneers including Chuck Berry, James Brown, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly. During the '80s and '90s, Little Richard made appearances on TV series including Sesame Street, Full House, and Miami Vice.
Little Richard influenced generations of future rock idols. "We used to stand backstage at Hamburg’s Star-Club and watch Little Richard play," said John Lennon of the Beatles' time as Penniman's opening act. Little Richard described watching a young Mick Jagger taking in his show—"Where do you think he got that walk?" And he once jokingly reminded Prince that he "was wearing purple before you was wearing it!"
In a 1990 interview with Rolling Stone, he looked back at his legacy as a founder of rock and roll. "I really feel from the bottom of my heart that I am the inventor. If there was somebody else, I didn’t know them, didn’t hear them, haven’t heard them," he said. "Not even to this day. So I say I’m the architect."