Richard “Little Richard” Penniman, largely considered to be a founding father of rock and roll, died Saturday. 

Little Richard’s death was confirmed by his son, Danny Jones Penniman, according to The New York Times. His cause of death hasn’t been revealed at this time. 

The legendary entertainer, who introduced the high energy of the Black choir to the tenderness of the American Blues tradition, was infamous for his thrilling performances and flamboyant costumes.

Born in 1932 in Macon, Georgia, Little Richard’s dynamic performances embraced androgyny and severed genre boundaries. He challenged his peers and successors to redefine their approaches to showmanship by using zebra-printed silks, sequined-capes, and a charmingly persistent signature hair style.  

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Taking his first formal music lessons as a child, sponsored by his church, Richard continued to perfect his electrifying stage persona when he temporarily became a traveling evangelist, preaching the gospel that had led him to the stage. 

The musician also credited his original piano tricks to the influence of Esquerita, a singer and piano player from South Carolina who taught him his approach to controlling the keys. He enhanced that technique and developed a style of his own becoming a global sensation by shrieking and gyrating while maintaining dominion over the music. 

Jukeboxes around the world have blared his iconic hits, including “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Long Tall Sally,” for generations. 

Little Richard appears on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. Image dated October 1, 1971. Copyright © 1971 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. Credit: CBS Photo Archive.

Little Richard was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as part of its original inductee class of 1986, and continued to be one of the most influential figures in the genre until his death decades later.

During his decades-long career, he’s also been honored by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, NAACP Image Awards, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and the Rhythm and Blues Foundation for his everlasting contributions to music.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the Penniman family at this time.


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