Little Richard, the self-proclaimed “architect of rock ‘n’ roll” whose piercing wail, pounding piano and towering pompadour irrevocably altered popular music while introducing black R&B to white America, died Saturday. He was 87.
Pastor Bill Minson, a close friend of Little Richard's, told The Associated Press that Little Richard died Saturday morning. His son, Danny Jones Penniman, also confirmed his father's death, which was first reported by Rolling Stone.
Born Richard Penniman, Little Richard was one of rock ‘n’ roll’s founding fathers who helped shatter the color line on the music charts, joining Chuck Berry and Fats Domino in bringing what was once called “race music” into the mainstream. Richard’s hyperkinetic piano playing, coupled with his howling vocals and hairdo, made him an implausible sensation — a gay, black man celebrated across America during the buttoned-down Eisenhower era.
He sold more than 30 million records worldwide, and his influence on other musicians was equally staggering, from the Beatles and Otis Redding to Creedence Clearwater Revival and David Bowie. In his personal life, he wavered between raunch and religion, alternately embracing the Good Book and outrageous behavior and looks - mascara-lined eyes, pencil-thin mustache and glittery suits.
“Little Richard? That’s rock ‘n’ roll,” Neil Young, who heard Richard’s riffs on the radio in Canada, told biographer Jimmy McDonough. “Little Richard was great on every record.”