Rock and roll pioneer Little Richard has died at age 87. It’s hard to believe he never had a big hit after 1958—62 years ago, yet his repertoire formed the building blocks of Rock and Roll. His Good Golly Miss Molly was covered by dozens of performers after its 1956 debut—including the Beatles, the Crests, Screaming Lord Such, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, Mitch Ryder, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Bruce Springsteen. None of them could match Little Richard’s stage persona however—High pompadour, shiny suits, mascara and makeup and his hoarse, urgent delivery.
Born Richard Penniman in Macon GA, in 1956 and 1957 he placed 11 titles on the pop chart and appeared in three movies, “Don’t Knock the Rock”, “Mister Rock and Roll” and the mainstream comedy “The Girl Can’t Help It”, introducing his supersonic vocals and trademark piano pounding (often with right leg splayed above the keyboard) to a wider, awestruck audience. He ended his own career in 1958 after a scare on a plane over Australia. He entered a bible college and was ordained as a minister, A few years later he re-emerged as a rocker, taking advantage of the rediscovery of his genre of music provided by the Beatles and other British Invasion groups. Its amazing when you see the lyrics to a song like Good Golly Miss Molly, that he ever got his records past the censors in that staid Eisenhower era. Its probably owing to whites not understanding the black jargon of the day.
He was also a gender bender in what was considered a repressive time in public mores. He variously described himself as gay, bi-sexual and omnisexual. He married and fathered a son, but later told a reporter he had been gay all his life. He once told a reporter, “If Elvis is the King of Rock and Roll, I am the Queen.”USA Today wrote, “As the first prominent gay rocker (closeted at the time, later acknowledged, although at times, during his recurrent religious revivals, he disavowed his past), he paved the way for artists such as Elton John, David Bowie and Freddie Mercury to flourish, and his theatricality laid the foundation for them and countless other flamboyant front-men.
In his later years Little Richard would pop up on the talk show circuit, amusing audiences with his boastful patter. He could still raise the roof in concert. In December 1992, he stole the show at a rock ’n’ roll revival concert at Wembley Arena in London. “I’m 60 years old today,” he told the audience, “and I still look remarkable.” He continued to look remarkable — with the help of wigs and thick pancake makeup — as he toured intermittently into the 21st century. But age eventually took its toll. In his later years he could only perform seated. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was opened, Little Richard was one of the ten original inductees along with Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, James Brown, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and the Everly Brothers.
From Randy Bachman: Little Richard. We lost a screaming, dancing, king of Rock ‘n’roll today. A man who was gracious, kind & shared his talents with me without asking anything in return. His life inspired mine & I’m grateful to have known & worked w/him. #LittleRichard #rocknroll #legend #music #rip