Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard, has passed away on Saturday, May 9th. Nicknamed "The Innovator, The Originator, and The Architect of Rock and Roll", Penniman's most celebrated work dates from the mid-1950s, when his charismatic showmanship and dynamic music, characterized by frenetic piano playing, pounding back beat and raspy shouted vocals, laid the foundation for rock and roll. He died after battling bone cancer. He was 87.
Pastor Bill Minson, a close friend of Little Richard's, told The Associated Press that Little Richard died Saturday morning. His son, Danny Jones Penniman, also confirmed his father's death, which was first reported by Rolling Stone.
Little Richard landed a record deal with RCA in 1951, but his career advanced slowly until 1956, when he hit the charts with a groundbreaking single called "Tutti Frutti," which he wrote in his head while working a job washing dishes. That song introduced his unique style and flamboyant persona to audiences everywhere, and he quickly followed up with a string of hits that would become classics, including "Rip It Up," "Lucille" and "Good Golly Miss Molly."
The entertainer struggled with his sexual identity throughout much of his life, and he abandoned his rock music career in 1957. In 1957, Richard - literally - saw the light. During a concert in Sydney, he saw a fireball in the sky above him. He took it as an instruction from God to repent.
It was actually the Sputnik satellite returning to Earth. But Richard threw his diamond rings into the water, gave up sin and popular music, and pledged himself to the Almighty.
A few days later, his original return flight to America crashed into the sea. It was a sign, he said, that God was watching and had taken him under his wing. Richard began recording gospel records - some produced by a young Quincy Jones - and signed up at Bible college in Alabama. He was soon asked to leave after allegations he had exposed himself to a fellow student.