Rock n’ roll pioneer Little Richard dead at 87

May 9, 2020


Little Richard, one of rock n’ roll’s founding and most visible fathers, died Saturday of complications stemming from bone cancer. He was 87.

Little Richard, born Richard Wayne Penniman, is recognized for his willingness to challenge prevailing narratives while openly interrogating the blanket masculinity of the rock n’ roll genre. His exuberant outfits, unconventional movements and soulful yelps became entrenched in rock n’ roll lore, encouraging future artists to expand the parameters of the once-rigid genre.

Richard became an instant success after his debut album Here’s Little Richard reached No. 13 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart.  The album contained two top-10 songs (“Long Tall Sally,” “Jenny, Jenny”) in addition to his most famous number “Tutti Frutti,” which remains his most streamed song across digital platforms. In 2003, Rolling Stone Magazine listed Here’s Little Richard as one of the 500 greatest albums of all time while ranking “Tutti Frutti” as the magazine’s 43rd greatest song.

Though Richard never collected a Grammy Award during his active music career, the organization recognized with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. Richard also earned induction into eight Hall of Fames, including the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame (2002), Louisiana Music Hall of Fame (2009) and Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame (2015).

He was also honored in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class in 1994.

While his success as a musician is apparent, Richard’s legacy is celebrated for the manner in which he trailblazed a path for future artists to explore their creative genius unburdened by existing norms. The Beatles honored Richard by recording several of his songs, including “Long Tall Sally.” Other artists to cover Richard include the Creedence Clearwater Revival, Elvis Costello and the Everly Brothers.

His flashy attire and fearless demeanor also laid the groundwork for pop artists such as Prince and Michael Jackson, who famously blurred the lines between rock and pop. Rock n’ roll’s hair metal era–one of the genre’s most commercially successful periods–can also be traced back to Richard’s influence.

The entertainment community mourned the loss of Richard on social media. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones wrote, “So sad to hear that my old friend Little Richard has passed. There will never be another!!! He was the true spirit of Rock’n Roll!”

The official Twitter account for World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) remembered Richard’s performance of “America the Beautiful” at Wrestlemania X.

Richard Wayne Penniman was born on Dec. 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, to Leva Mae and Charles “Bud” Penniman. As one of 12 children, Richard and his siblings were raised in Pleasant Hill, where his father served as a church deacon and brick mason while selling bootlegged moonshine on the side.

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  • K

    KeyShawnMay 13, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    I somewhat agree, Managing Editor. 😃

    However, if it weren’t for Little Richard and others, Diversity, Gender Studies, Black Studies, Sexuality Studies, Hispanic Studies, Asian Studies,Diversity Centers and more might not exist today. 😑

    • M

      Managing EditorMay 13, 2020 at 12:30 pm

      Agreed. You bring up great points. Thank you for bringing them to my attention

  • K

    KeyShawnMay 13, 2020 at 11:32 am

    Why is there no mention of his being Gay, Bi and Straight. He had been all three, at various points in his life. One recent article quoted him saying he was temporarily Gay. Being Gay, Bi and wearing makeup were big, newsworthy, societal events in the 1950s, especially for a Black man. 🤹🕺

    Little Richard was also Christian sometimes. 😑

    • M

      Managing EditorMay 13, 2020 at 11:51 am

      Because at some point, social progression equates to recognizing men and women beyond their sexual orientation and skin color. While writing this, his biological characteristics actually didnt cross the mind and I think that’s kind of beautiful.