Rest in peace. Little Richard, the musician who is known as one of the founding fathers of rock ‘n’ roll, died on Saturday, May 9, at 87 years old. His son, Danny Penniman, confirmed his death to Rolling Stone. The icon passed away in Nashville and his cause of death is unknown.
Richard (real name: Richard Wayne Penniman) was born on December 5th, 1932, in Macon, Georgia. He was one of 12 children and his uncles were preachers. The singer opened up about his upbringing in an interview with Rolling Stone in 1970. “I was born in the slums. My daddy sold whiskey, bootleg whiskey,” he said at the time.
He got his start in music by singing at a nearby church, but Richard’s father, Bud, wasn’t supportive of his music. Bud accused Richard of being gay, which led to him running away from home at 13 years old. He moved in with a white family in Macon. During his childhood, he became friends with another future music legend, Otis Redding. He would listen to R&B, blues and country music while working at a concession stand at the Macon Auditorium.
Richard got his big break after performing at the Tick Tock Club in Macon, where he won a local talent show. In 1951, he landed his first record deal with RCA. He started going by his stage name, “Little Richard,” when he was 15 years old, and he learned how to play piano by taking lessons from Esquerita, a local performer.
His first hit song, “Tutti Frutti,” was released in 1956, followed by “Long Tall Sally” and “Rip It Up. He released another classic in 1957, “Lucille,” and one of his best-known hits, “Good Golly Miss Molly” was released in 1958.
“When I first came along, I never heard any rock & roll,” he told the outlet in 1990. “When I started singing [rock ‘n’ 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.”
Richard would go on to inspire other music legends who came after him, like Prince and Elton John. “I heard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis, and that was it,” Elton, 73, told the outlet in 1973. “I didn’t ever want to be anything else.”