Richard Wayne Penniman, better known to the world as Little Richard died at age 87 from cancer.
The influential rock and roll pioneer embodied the spirit and sound of the new art form with his fervent shrieks, joyful gender-bending persona, and looks for days.
Responsible for hits like “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally,” Little Richard had a way of generating music inspired generations.
The superstar broke many barriers in the music industry and paved the way for artists to be open about their sexuality. Referring to his own sexuality, Little Richard once said, “I’ve been gay all my life and I know God is a God of love, not hate.” He also referred to himself as “omnisexual,” because of his relationships with both men and women.
Revered for decades as an icon for queer entertainers, he denounced being gay and spoke out against “unnatural affections” in a 2017 interview with a local Christian network Three Angels Broadcasting Network. For years, he struggled to rectify his sexually fluid identity with his deeply religious roots.
Despite his complicated persona, Little Richard is the foundation of rock and roll as we know it today. He opened up to Rolling Stone in 1990 about the pressures that came with entering a new lane of music. “When I first came along, I never heard any rock & roll, when I started singing [rock & roll], I sang it a long time before I presented it to the public because I was afraid they wouldn’t like it. I never heard nobody do it, and I was scared.”
In 1986, Little Richard was one of the 10 original inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is also a four-time Grammy winner and a Lifetime Achievement Award recipient.
Since a 2009 hip replacement, he only performs sitting at his piano. However, the spirit of rock and roll never left him and his spirit will never leave us. Our thoughts and prayers are with his loved ones during this time.