‘Architect of Rock ‘n Roll’ Little Richard dead at 87

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HOLLYWOOD – Black history legend and music icon “Little Richard” died Saturday after a battle with bone cancer. He was 87.

According to Wikipedia, Richard Wayne Penniman was born on December 5, 1932.  He was an influential figure in popular music and his most celebrated work dates back to the mid-1950s, when his dynamic music and charismatic showmanship laid the foundation for rock and roll, leading him to be given the nickname “The Innovator, The Originator, and The Architect of Rock and Roll.” Characterized by his frenetic piano playing and raspy singing voice, Richard’s music also played a key role in the formation of other popular music genres, including soul and funk. He influenced numerous singers and musicians across musical genres from rock to hip hop, and his music helped shape rhythm and blues for generations to come.

“Tutti Frutti” (1955), one of Richard’s signature songs, became an instant hit, reaching No. 2 on Billboard Rhythm and Blues Best-Sellers chart and crossing over to the pop charts in both the United States and overseas in the United Kingdom. It reached No. 21 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100 and No. 29 on the UK singles chart. Richard’s next hit single, “Long Tall Sally” (1956), hit No. 1 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues Best-Sellers chart and No. 13 on the Billboard Top 100 while reaching the top ten in the UK. Following his success, Richard built up his backup band, The Upsetters, with the addition of saxophonists Clifford “Gene” Burks and leader Grady Gaines, bassist Olsie “Baysee” Robinson and guitarist Nathaniel “Buster” Douglas. Richard’s critically acclaimed debut album Here’s Little Richard (1957) peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Top LPs chart.

In 1962, concert promoter Don Arden persuaded Little Richard to tour Europe after telling him his records were still selling well there even though they were not in the United States. Having heard of Richard’s European tour, Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles, asked Arden to allow the band to open for Richard on some tour dates, to which he agreed. The first show for which the Beatles opened was at New Brighton’s Tower Ballroom that October. During this time, Richard advised the group on how to perform his songs and taught Paul McCartney his distinctive vocalizations. In the fall of 1963, Richard agreed to rescue a sagging tour featuring The Everly Brothers, Bo Diddley and the Rolling Stones. At the end of that tour, Richard was given his own television special for Granada Television titled The Little Richard Spectacular.

Richard was honored by many institutions. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of its first group of inductees in 1986. He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He was the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. In 2015, Richard received a Rhapsody & Rhythm Award from the National Museum of African American Music for his key role in the formation of popular music genres and helping to bring an end to the racial divide on the music charts and in concert in the mid-1950s changing American culture significantly. “Tutti Frutti” was included in the National Recording Registry of the Library of Congress in 2010, which stated that his “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat announced a new era in music.”

Little Richard was a true legend and will always be a proud part of black history. Actor “Leon”portrayed him masterfully in a movie about his life, but as Richard himself says, he is “often imitated, but never duplicated.”

A life well lived. RIP to the true Rock and Roll King!