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Little Richard, Rock Music Pioneer, Dead At 87

Little Richard, Rock Music Pioneer, Dead At 87

The legendary singer and pianist was one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll.

Little Richard [Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images]

(TRR) – Rock music pioneer Little Richard has died. He was 87. The legendary singer and pianist was widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of contemporary rock ‘n’ roll sound. The musician’s son, Danny Jones Penniman, confirmed his death to Rolling Stone. The cause of his death is unknown.

Little Richard broke out with the song “Tutti Frutti” in 1956. From there, he released a series of mega hits including “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up” that same year, “Lucille” in 1957, and “Good Golly Miss Molly” in 1958 – driven by his simple, pumping piano, gospel-influenced vocal exclamations and sexually charged (often gibberish) lyrics.

“I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton John told Rolling Stone in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else. I’m more of a Little Richard stylist than a Jerry Lee Lewis, I think. Jerry Lee is a very intricate piano player and very skillful, but Little Richard is more of a pounder.” 

Little Richard was well known for his live stage spectacle. With his wild fashion, makeup, and presence, Little Richard influenced some of rock’s more outrageous performers like Elton John, KISS, Prince and others.”

“Prince is the Little Richard of his generation,” Richard told Joan Rivers in 1989 before looking at the camera and addressing Prince. “I was wearing purple before you was wearing it!”

In his prime, Little Richard was covered by contemporaries like Buddy Holly, Billy Haley, and Elvis Presley. In years to come, other famous acts including The Everly Brothers, The Kinks, Elvis Costello, Creedance Clearwater Revival, and heavy metal mainstays Scorpions would put their spin on Little Richard classics.

His influence on future rock royalty would be vast, with artists like The Beatles, AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Motörhead, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Dylan all citing Little Richard as a heavy influence.

Little Richard released his first album Here’s Little Richard in 1957. He was a member of the inaugural Rock and Roll Hall of Fame class in 1986. In 1993, he received the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2003, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Little Richard has stars on both the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the Music City Walk of Fame in Nashville.

“Elvis popularized [rock and roll],” Steven Van Zandt tweeted after the news broke. “Chuck Berry was the storyteller. Richard was the archetype.”