Little Richard dead at 87

Musician and Entertainer Little Richard

One of the founding fathers of rock and roll has left us. Little Richard, whose real name was Richard Wayne Penniman, has passed away. He was 87. His son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the death to Rolling Stone. A cause of death remains unknown.

Little Richard was known for his flashyperforming style, which would eventually influence James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and Prince.

“Prince is the Little Richard of his generation,” Richard once said, according to Rolling Stone, adding that he addressed the camera and told the star: “I was wearing purple before you was wearing it!”

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Of course there was an obscure song as well called Good Golly Miss Molly. Richard claimed he wrote that while washing dishes at the Greyhound bus station in his hometown of Macon, Georgia.

Among his hits were Tutti Frutti, Long Tall Sally, and Lucille. Besides Brown and Prince, Richard’s musical influence was vast, inspiring  The Beatles, who rerecorded several of his songs including Long Tall Sally.

Elvis PresleyBuddy Holly, and Bill Haley would cover Little Richard’s songs. The Rolling StonesDavid Bowie, and Rod Stewart, also credited him as an influence.

He was born in Macon, Georgia, on December 5, 1932,  the third of 12 children of Leva Mae (née Stewart) and Charles “Bud” Penniman. His father was a church deacon who sold bootlegged moonshine on the side and owned a nightclub called the Tip In Inn.

His mother was a member of Macon’s New Hope Baptist Church.Initially, his first name was supposed to have been “Ricardo”, but an error resulted in “Richard” instead. The Penniman children were raised in a neighborhood of Macon called Pleasant Hill. 

In childhood, he was nicknamed “Lil’ Richard” by his family because of his small and skinny frame. A mischievous child who played pranks on neighbors, Penniman began singing in church at a young age. Possibly as a result of complications at birth, he had a slight deformity that left one of his legs shorter than the other.

This produced an unusual gait, and he was mocked for his allegedly effeminate appearance.

Richard would attribute his early musical influences to gospel performers such as Brother Joe “Thunderbolt of the Middle West” May, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Mahalia Jackson, and Marion Williams.

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Musicians from Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys to Chance The Rapper remembered Little Richard on Twitter this morning.

After pursuing a career as a gospel singer Richard would also go onto record a children’s album and provided theme songs for children’s shows including The Magic School Bus. He also sang Rubber Ducky on Sesame Street.

Little Richard’s career was honored with an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. He also took home a Lifetime Achievement Grammy.