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Little Richard: Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneer Dies

Little Richard

Pioneering rock ‘n’ roll singer Little Richard has died at the age of 87, the musician’s family has confirmed.

Little Richard’s hits included Good Golly Miss Molly, which made the UK charts in 1958. The Beatles, Elton John and Elvis all cited him an influence.

The singer, born in Georgia as Richard Wayne Penniman, was among the first group inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

His other well-known songs include Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally.

Obituary: Little Richard

The star, who sold more than 30 million records worldwide, was known for his exuberant performances, shrieks, raspy voice and flamboyant outfits. He had his biggest hits in the 1950s.

Paying tribute after news of his death emerged, Chic co-founder Nile Rodgers said it was “the loss of a true giant”.

Richard’s bass guitarist, Charles Glenn, told celebrity news website TMZ the singer had been ill for two months. He said Richard died at his Tennessee home, with his brother, sister and son beside him.

Little Richard was one of 12 children, and said he had started singing because he wanted to stand out from his siblings.

“I was the biggest head of all, and I still have the biggest head,” he told BBC Radio 4 in 2008.

“I did what I did, because I wanted attention. When I started banging on the piano and screaming and singing, I got attention.”

His music was embraced by both black and white fans at a time when parts of the US were still segregated, and concerts had a rope up the centre of the auditorium to divide people by colour.

Richard was born in Macon, Georgia, on 5 December 1932. Growing up in the southern US state, he absorbed the rhythms of gospel music and the influences of New Orleans, blending them into his own piano-laden extravaganzas.

His father was a preacher who also ran a nightclub, and his mother was a devout Baptist.

“I was born in the slums. My daddy sold whiskey, bootleg whiskey,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970.

The singer left home in his teens after disagreements with his father – who initially didn’t support his music.

“My daddy wanted seven boys, and I had spoiled it, because I was gay,” the showman later said.

Though openly homosexual for many years, Richard also had relationships with women. He married Ernestine Harvin, a fellow Evangelical, and later adopted a son.

His commitment to depravity extended to drugs, hard drinking and sex parties – to which he would take his Bible.

In the late 1950s, he turned his back on music after seeing a fireball cross the sky while on stage in Sydney, Australia. It was the Sputnik 1 satellite returning to Earth – but Richard took it as a sign from God that he should immediately change his ways.

He signed up to Bible college in Alabama, but was soon asked to leave following allegations he had exposed himself to another student. Within five years, he was back on tour. A gospel album in 1961 was followed by forays into Soul.

After seeing cocaine kill his brother, Richard turned to religion again – and was eventually ordained as a minister in 1970.

The singer’s complex attitude to his sexuality meant he was never embraced as a gay icon. After he was re-baptised as a Seventh Day Adventist, he renounced homosexuality, framing it as a temporary choice he had made.

The Rolling Stones, who opened shows for him, spoke reverently of his on-stage prowess. “Little Richard drove the whole house into a complete frenzy,” Mick Jagger once said. “There is no single phrase to describe his hold on the audience.”

Richard himself felt his influence was never acknowledged as it should have been, and blamed the deep racial prejudice in America at the height of his career.

But he was proud of his impact in crossing divides.

“I’ve always thought that rock ‘n’ roll brought the races together,” the singer once told an interviewer. “Although I was black, the fans didn’t care. I used to feel good about that.”

Source: BBC
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