Little Richard made an impact
If you enjoy today’s music and the way it is presented, you owe thanks to Richard Penniman, who rose from a life of poverty in Macon, Ga., to become Little Richard, one of the founders of rock ‘n’ roll who died Saturday at the age of 87.
His work in the 1950s went beyond changing the course of popular music. He was the driving force that brought black rhythm and blues, what at the time was known as race music, into the mainstream. And while he changed what people were listening to on the radio and on 45 RPM records, he transformed the way music was performed — from his hard-driving work on the piano, to his trademark pompadour to the beaded shirts he wore while on stage, Little Richard brought a sense of showmanship that had not been seen before.
The hits were legendary, from “Tutti Fruitti” to “Lucille” to “Long Tall Sally” to “Good Golly Miss Molly,” and his records sold more than 30 million copies. It was work that would land him in the inaugural class of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
His music was powerful and the impression he left deep — the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were opening acts for him in the early 1960s. That was a period when Little Richard fired a then-little known guitarist, a fellow named Jimi Hendrix.
“Without a doubt — musically, vocally and visually — he was my biggest influence. Seeing him live in my teens was the most exciting event in my life at that point. Goosebumps, electricity and joy came from every pore. His records still sound fresh and the opening few seconds of ‘Tutti Frutti’ are the most explosive in music history,” Elton John shared on social media while remembering Little Richard.
His career was not without issues, and Little Richard faced many struggles in his life — personal battles with trying to reconcile his deeply religious upbringing with the world of rock music, questions about homosexuality and an addiction to cocaine. Yet he always remained popular, performing in Las Vegas and landing television and movie roles.
Little Richard was one of those rare individuals who had the talent and the ability needed to ensure that their work remained relevant across almost eight decades.
He entertained us, made us think and set a standard that today’s musicians strive to meet. He will be missed.