Little Richard, ‘the architect of rock ‘n’ roll’, dies at 87

His contributions to early rock ‘n’ roll are honoured by the genre’s most esteemed artists.

Little Richard 1959

Photo: Michael Ochs Archives / Getty Images

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Rock ’n’ roll legend Little Richard, born Richard Wayne Penniman, has died at the age of 87.

Per People, Little Richard’s longtime agent, Dick Alen, confirmed that Penniman’s cause of death was bone cancer, and that the musician died in Nashville with his brother and son by his side.

Alen revealed that Penniman had fought the illness for several years, remaining tight-lipped on his illness. “He was battling for a good while, many years,” he said.

“I last spoke to him about two or three weeks ago. I knew he wasn’t well but he never really got into it, he just would say ‘I’m not well.’ He’s been suffering for many years with various aches and pains. He just wouldn’t talk about it much.”

Penniman is widely regarded as one of the progenitors of rock ’n’ roll – earning nicknames such as “The Innovator”, “The Originator”, and “The Architect of Rock and Roll”.

His first major career hit and signature song, Tutti Frutti was lauded as “the sound of the birth of rock and roll” by an artist panel including the likes of Tom Waits, Bjork, Brian Wilson and Steve Earle – topping Mojo’s 2007 list of ‘The Top 100 Records That Changed The World’.

Little Richard was renowned for his frenetic onstage persona – which is credited to have influenced some of soul’s most electrifying performers from James Brown to Otis Redding. His frenzied performances also played an influential role on one particular guitarist in his sideband – a young Jimi Hendrix, who was 22 when he began performing with The Upsetters.

Since his passing, artists of all genres and generations have shared tributes, memorials and send-offs to commemorate the late musician.

The Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger shared in a Tweet that Penniman was his “biggest inspiration” as a teenager, commenting that Little Richard’s music “still has the same raw electric energy when you play it now as it did when it first shot through the music scene in the mid 50’s.”

Folk icon Bob Dylan called Penniman his “shining star and guiding light”, sharing in a Tweet, “His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.”

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