Little Richard, the influential musician especially known for his showmanship and flamboyance, died on Saturday, May 9, 2020 in Nashville at the age of 87, Rolling Stone reports. It was later revealed that the legend passed away after a battle with bone cancer.
Born in Macon, GA on Dec. 5, 1932, Richard Penniman (later becoming widely known as “Little Richard”) got his start in music at an early age singing in church. Gospel music made a significant impression on him and he eventually began working part time at the Macon City Auditorium. In October 1947, Sister Rosetta Tharpe heard Penniman singing before her show at the Macon City Auditorium and invited him to open the show, prompting his aspirations of becoming a professional performer.
In November 1955, after performing for several years and signing various record contracts, Little Richard broke into the music scene with "Tutti Frutti" and it became an instant hit. He later followed it up with hits like “Long Tall Sally” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” In May 1957, Little Richard released his debut album, Here's Little Richard, and it was met with significant chart success.
With such success, Little Richard and his band the Upsetters became a major concert attraction. Notably, the performer was known for his colorful outfits, wild hairstyles, and onstage antics, setting the standard for rock & roll showmanship for years to come.
By October 1957, Little Richard had decided to move away from the music business to join the ministry. After doing so and working as a gospel singer, Little Richard eventually returned to performing secular material on stage again in 1962. Little Richard ultimately moved back and forth between ministry and performing again, still performing occasionally up until 2015.
The rock & roll pioneer was covered by contemporaries like Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Bill Haley, and studied by young rock and soul musicians alike. His influence, though, saw no limitations, influencing popular music and culture for decades. Among his numerous accomplishments was being one of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's first inductees and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
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Article image: Little Richard performing at the University of Texas Forty Acres Festival in 2007. (Anna Bleker [Available through Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons.)