Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect of rock ‘n’ roll” whose piercing wail, pounding piano and towering pompadour irrevocably changed popular music while introducing black R&B to white America, has died on Saturday (May 9) aged 87.
Little Richard's close friend Pastor Bill Minson told The Associated Press that the artist died on Saturday morning.
Minson added that the family are not releasing the cause of death.
Born Richard Penniman, Little Richard was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers who helped shatter the colour line 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 hairdo, made him an implausible sensation — a gay, black man celebrated across America during the buttoned-down Eisenhower era.
He sold more than 30 million records worldwide, and his influence on other musicians was equally staggering, from The Beatles and Otis Redding to Creedence Clearwater Revival and David Bowie.
In his personal life, he wavered between raunch and religion, alternately embracing the Good Book and outrageous behaviour.
“Little Richard? That’s rock ‘n’ roll,” Neil Young, who heard Richard’s riffs on the radio in Canada, told biographer Jimmy McDonough. “Little Richard was great on every record.”
It was 1956 when his classic “Tutti Frutti” landed like a hand grenade in the Top 40, exploding from radios and off turntables across the country.
It was highlighted by Richard’s memorable call of “wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom.”
A string of hits followed, providing the foundation of rock music: “Lucille,” “Keep A Knockin’,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly Miss Molly.”
More than 40 years after the latter charted, Bruce Springsteen was still performing “Good Golly Miss Molly” live.
The Beatles’ Paul McCartney imitated Richard’s signature yelps — perhaps most notably in the “Wooooo!” from the hit “She Loves You.” Ex-bandmate John Lennon covered Richard’s “Rip It Up” and “Ready Teddy” on the 1975 “Rock and Roll” album.
When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened in 1986, he was among the charter members with Elvis Presley, Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke and others.
Few were quicker to acknowledge Little Richard’s seminal role than Richard himself.
The flamboyant singer claimed he paved the way for Elvis, provided Mick Jagger with his stage moves and conducted vocal lessons for McCartney.
“I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll!” Little Richard crowed at the 1988 Grammy Awards as the crowd rose in a standing ovation. “I am the originator!”.