Little Richard, the legendary pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll, died on Saturday, May 9, at the age of 87. His son, Danny Jones Penniman, confirmed Richard’s death to Rolling Stone. Rock ‘n’ roll was just getting started when Little Richard hit the music scene, and he combined sounds of gospel and blues to completely reinvent and energize the music style, becoming the true architect of the style. He was responsible for influencing artists like Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, James Brown and Prince.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic that’s swept the globe, many people are now wondering how the influential singer died. He did not die of COVID-19, though. His son told Rolling Stone and The New York Times that Richard died of cancer. In a later statement to People, Richard’s agent Dick Alen confirmed that the singer died of bone cancer in Nashville. “Little Richard passed away this morning from bone cancer in Nashville. He was living with his brother in Nashville,” Alen said. “He was battling for a good while, many years. I last spoke to him about two or three weeks ago. I knew he wasn’t well but he never really got into it, he just would say ‘I’m not well.’ He’s been suffering for many years with various aches and pains. He just wouldn’t talk about it much.”
Little Richard, whose real name was Richard Penniman, had suffered from health problems in recent years, according to The Guardian. He had a stroke and a heart attack and also struggled with hip problems.
The Singer Released His First Hit, ‘Tutti Frutti,’ in 1956 & Followed It Up With a Series of Powerful Classics
“Tutti Frutti” jumped to the top of the charts after its release in 1956, and it was soon followed in the same year by “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up.” In the following two years, he came out with “Lucille” (1957) and “Good Golly Miss Molly” (1958), the songs super-charged with his quick piano playing and gospel-influenced shouts.
The performer was just as exciting and energetic on stage. According to record producer and arranger H.B. Barnum, who also played saxophone with Little Richard, “He’d just burst onto the stage from anywhere, and you wouldn’t be able to hear anything but the roar of the audience. He’d be on the stage, he’d be off the stage, he’d be jumping and yelling, screaming, whipping the audience on.”
He didn’t have another top 10 hit after that and took a hiatus from performing to becoming a traveling evangelist and record gospel music. During the 1960s, he returned to the stage and played wildly to packed crowds in Europe and the U.S., with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones his opening acts. He said this lifestyle began to drain him so he left the spotlight again in 1977 to become a Bible salesman, but returned to the public eye and the stage in 1984, and still performed occasionally in the years before his death.
The Legendary Singer Is Being Mourned on Social Media With Tributes & Acknowledgment of His Music’s Impact
Since news of his death broke on Saturday morning, social media has been flooded with tributes to the singer. Many posts are acknowledging the impact both Richard and his music had on others personally and on the rock ‘n’ roll genre.
Mick Jagger wrote that he was “so saddened” to hear of Richard’s death, adding that the singer was his biggest inspiration. He added: “When we were on tour with him I would watch his moves every night and learn from him how to entertain and involve the audience and he was always so generous with advice to me. He contributed so much to popular music I will miss you Richard, God bless.”
Spike Lee posted a message on Twitter and shared a commercial that he’d directed in 1991 with Michael Jordan and Little Richard:
He wrote as the caption: “Rest In Peace To One Of The True Creators Of Rock And Roll. This Is The Commercial I Directed With Little Richard And Michael Jordan, 1991.”
Filmmaker Ava DuVernay also shared her memories of Richard and his impact on her life:
She wrote: “I served soul food brunch to Little Richard every Sunday for a year while waitressing at Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch in LA. I was a college student. He tipped me a crisp $100 bill each week on a $75 breakfast with friends. This was 30 years ago. Helped me so much. God rest his soul.”
Ringo Starr of the Beatles fame shared:
He wrote: “God bless little Richard one of my all-time musical heroes. Peace and love to all his family.”
Author and philanthropist Frederick Joseph posted:
His message reads: “Every Black person on the planet needs to keep this Little Richard energy. Rest In Peace to a pioneer, a legend, a titan of music.” He also said in another tweet: “I don’t even know what to say. The world owes so much to Little Richard.”