Rock and Roll Pioneer Little Richard Dead at 87

CIRCA 1959: Musician Little Richard performs on the recording studio at a microphone and piano in circa 1959. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
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(Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Little Richard, the rock and roll pioneer and foundational building block who gave the world such transformative hits as "Good Golly Miss Molly," died today. He was 87 years old. He was battling cancer at the time of his death.

After blasting out in 1956 with "Tutti Fruitti," the man born Richard Penniman December 1932 in Macon, Georgia, was a true rock and roll architect. Releasing "Long Tall Sally" and "Rip It Up" that same year, Little Richard hit in 1957 with "Lucille," and again in 1958 with "Good Golly Miss Molly."

Little Richard's wild and engaging style would make him a hero to many of rock and roll's biggest names, including the Beatles, who recorded many of his songs over the years. The band's 1965 single, "I'm Down," was a tribute to Richard.

"I could do Little Richard’s voice, which is a wild, hoarse, screaming thing, it’s like an out-of-body experience," McCartney said in the book, Paul McCartney: Many Years From Now. "You have to leave your current sensibilities and go about a foot above your head to sing it. You have to actually go outside yourself… A lot of people were fans of Little Richard, so I used to sing his stuff, but there came a point when I wanted one of my own, so I wrote ‘I’m Down’."

“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.” 

"Richard was one of the greatest entertainers that ever lived," said Charles Conner, Richard's longtime drummer, on Facebook. "He was a boss, a brother-in-law for 10 years, & a lifetime friend. The last time I spoke with Richard, he said 'thanks for helping me create my style with your rock & roll beat' (which consisted of 8th notes). May he rest in peace."

An interview Little Richard gave the BBC in 1972 embodies the spirit and energy of the true king of rock and roll. Watch it below.

 

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