Little Richard Dies Aged 87

By Ben Hamill - May 11 2020
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Little Richard Dies Aged 87

Self-proclaimed king of Rock ’n Roll Little Richard has died aged 87. Of such an explosive magnitude was Little Richard’s influence not only on one particular genre, but on how we appreciate music as a whole, that it’s hard to even begin to try to quantify the makings of the life of the artist behind songs like Good Golly, Miss Molly, Lucille and of course, Tutti Frutti.

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Compiling a deserving obituary for the artist who would ultimately be regarded the number 1 prime force of Rock ’n Roll is as daunting but necessary a task as any other. And so, to say that an attempt is possibly the highest rung of what can practically be achieved is possibly the overstatement of a lifetime. Even more so when that lifetime is a summary of the life of Little Richard.

Remembering The Switch

Our receiving of the 1955 hit Tutti Frutti in many ways embodied the creation of a whole new reality. We were suddenly yanked from a cushiony place of soothing and satisfying Sinatra to a plain of musical violence, the rudest but also the most pleasurable of awakenings and a whole lot of debauchery, chaos and general musical mayhem.

The message was clear: the time had come to establish a new foundation for what the music of the future was going to sound like. A new gospel had been handed down to all of mankind, and with apostles the likes of Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino and Bill Haley in charge of every man, woman and child’s musical salvation, there was no longer telling any difference between heaven or hell. And best of all is that we took to the new dispensation like slippery ducks to crystal clear water.

Little Richard was willing to lead the way to a world in which even chaos had a place and even mayhem existed in balanced disorder. And we his instantly loyal followers were only happy to fall into perfect formation, willing to follow wherever our hallowed Pied Piper decided to lead.

Early Days

Little Richard was born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon to Charles and Leva Stewart. One of 12 children, Richard at a young age learned to play the piano. Part of a family of Seventh-Day Adventists, young Richard Penniman soon discovered a voice for gospel and for church choir singing.

For reasons one can only surmise at, Little Richard was banned from the family home at only 13. Young, inexperienced and left to the mercy of his own devices, the young outcast eventually took to performing “miracle cures” that formed part of what was at the time referred to as medicine shows – in between musical entertainment acts. Tired of the same old worn-out local scene, he eventually ended up hitching a ride to Atlanta, where he got signed by RCA Records in 1951.

Richard Wayne Penniman would from that point on be known to the world as Little Richard.

Slow Beginnings

He was off to a slow initial start, recording various singles for the RCA Records label. None of those early recordings seemed to make a significant impact on the music industry at the time. Slowed but not broken, he eventually returned to hometown Macon toward the beginning of 1955, where he resorted to washing dishes in order to get by.

His big break came when during that same year he pitched a demo to indie label Specialty. Owner Art Rupe knew instantly that pure gold had fallen right into his lap and would eventually become the catapult to launch the beloved artist to musical greatness.

He announced his retirement in 2013 and in 2019 received the Distinguished Artist award, hosted each year in Nashville. Little Richard is survived by son Danny.

FAQs

Did Little Richard ever marry?

Yes – he was married to Ernestine Campbell from 1959 to 1963. He never remarried.

What was his real sexual orientation?

Little Richard – true to his colourful nature – identified as gay, bi-sexual and even omni-sexual.

Does Little Richard have any children?

Little Richard has a son named Danny. Danny was adopted by Richard and Ernestine shortly after they were wed.

Why was Little Richard kicked out of his parents’ home at 13?

Little Richard famously contended that this was because of his having been born gay when his father had really wanted 7 sons.

What was Little Richard’s biggest self-professed personal battle?

He struggled with a nasty cocaine addiction for a very long time.

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