One of rock & roll’s founding fathers, Little Richard, passed away overnight. He was 87. Little Richard’s lawyer, Bill Sobel, stated that his cause of death was bone cancer.
Tributes poured in for the late musician this morning, with Bette Midler, Brian Wilson, Joan Jett, Gene Simmons and many more paying their respects on social media.
Little Richard – real name Richard Wayne Penniman – began performing professionally in the late 1940s. An accomplished pianist and singer, Penniman released his breakthrough song, ‘Tutti Frutti’ in 1956. A string of hits followed, including ‘Rip It Up’, ‘Good Golly Miss Molly’ and ‘Long Tall Sally’. Citing Penniman as an influence on their music, The Beatles covered the latter of these tracks some years later. In 2001, Paul McCartney revealed that he learned a lot from Little Richard’s distinct, gravelly singing style.
“Little Richard always says ‘Paul…you know, I taught you everything that you know.’ I say, ‘That’s right, Richard, it’s true,'” McCartney revealed in a 2001 interview with CNN.
But Little Richard’s influence extended beyond the music he made. Like many of his contemporaries, Penniman was passionate about allowing integrated crowds at his concerts, in a time when racial segregation was the norm. He was also known for his flamboyant dress sense. AC/DC’s Brian Johnson joked in a 2014 interview with The Guardian that Little Richard “was fucking prettier than a woman”.
Little Richard was also of the first rock musicians to speak openly about his sexual exploration with members of the same gender. While Richard married Ernestine Harvin in 1957, he did not strictly consider himself heterosexual. In 2012, he revealed to GQ that his father “put me out of the house. He said he wanted seven boys, and that I had spoiled it, because I was gay.”
Penniman continued to perform irregularly in the years prior to his death, and will be sorely missed by the musical community.