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May 10, 2020

20 Amazing Portraits of a Very Young Little Richard in the 1950s and 1960s

Little Richard, a founding father of rock‘n’roll whose fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona embodied the spirit and sound of that new art form, died Saturday. He was 87. The musician’s son, Danny Jones Penniman, confirmed the pioneer’s death. The cause of death was bone cancer, the musician’s lawyer Bill Sobel told Rolling Stone.

Richard, whose real name was Richard Penniman, was born in Macon, Georgia in December 1932.  His career began when in the late 1940s but his early recordings with RCA Victor garnered little success. His breakthrough came when he signed to Specialty Records in 1955, releasing a run of wild and flamboyant singles – Tutti Frutti, Long Tall Sally, Rip It Up, The Girl Can’t Help It, Lucille, Keep A-Knockin’ and Good Golly, Miss Molly, among others – that made him a star on both sides of the Atlantic.

Richard was known for his outrageous performance style at the piano – eyes lined with mascara, pompadour hair fixed with potato starch, ferocious eyes transfixing audiences – and infectious whoops, a style echoed by dozens of performers, Prince prominent among them.

In October 1957, however, during a tour of Australia, Richard saw a fireball crossing the sky. It was actually the Sputnik 1 satellite, but he took it as a sign from God that he needed to change his ways. In 1958 he became a preacher, before returning to secular music in 1962. The conflict between God and the devil’s music was a theme for much of the rest of his life. In old age, Richard renounced his omnisexuality, saying he had asked God to save him.

His Specialty singles exerted a profound influence. The Beatles performed Richard’s songs.

Despite not having a top 10 US hit after 1958, to Richard his claim to be the originator of rock‘n’roll was never in serious question. R.I.P!


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