Arts & Entertainment

Rock and roll trailblazer Little Richard dies

Washington, May 9 (efe-epa).- Musician and singer Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect” of rock and roll, died Saturday after a battle with cancer, son Danny Jones Penniman told Rolling Stone. He was 87.

Charles Glenn, a member of Little Richard’s band, said in remarks to TMZ that the legendary performer passed away at his home in Nashville.

Born Dec. 5, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, Richard Wayne Penniman was one of 12 children.

His father, Charles “Bud” Penniman, was a church deacon who sold bootleg liquor and owned a night club, while several of Richard’s uncles were preachers.

In 1947, Richard, then 14, was working the concession stand at the Macon City Auditorium ahead of a performance by one of his favorite gospel singers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who overheard the young man singing her songs and invited him to join her onstage to open the show.

Little Richard was signed by RCA Records in 1951, but failed to produce any hits and by the time he sent a demo tape to a small record label in Chicago, he had returned to his old job at the Greyhound bus station in Macon.

The label’s owner liked what he heard and Little Richard cut “Tutti Frutti” in September 1955. The song, famous for the chorus “a wop bob alu bob a wop bam boom,” climbed to No. 21 on the Billboard Top 100 in the United States and went on to sell 1 million copies.

His next effort, “Long Tall Sally,” reached No. 13 on the Top 100 and sold more than a million copies, and was followed in quick succession by “Slippin’ and Slidin’,” “Rip It Up,” “Ready Teddy,” “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Lucille.”

The combination of Little Richard’s music – an electrifying mix of gospel and R&B – with his flamboyant persona and dynamic performing style made him one of the first black artists to break out of the category then known as “race records.”

“From the git-go, my music was accepted by whites,” he said in a 1990 interview with Rolling Stone.

Little Richard was admired by peers like Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley and though his last major hit was in 1958, he exercised a profound influence on everybody from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones to David Bowie and Prince.

And the singer was not shy about reminding the music world of his importance, telling Joan Rivers in 1989: “Prince is the Little Richard of his generation.”

Little Richard projected an androgynous image from the start and described himself at various times as gay, bisexual and “omnisexual.”

He became fond of saying that if Elvis Presley was the king of rock and roll, he was the queen. EFE bpm/dr

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