Tributes pour in for queer Black icon and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard, who ‘laid the foundation for generations of artists to follow’
Tributes from the world’s biggest musicians are pouring in for gay Black artist Little Richard, who has died aged 87.
The flamboyant pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll, who inspired a generation of musicians including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, was born in Georgia in 1932.
He had been struggling with his health for several years, having had hip problems, a stroke and a heart attack.
Confirming his death in a statement, his agent of 40 years, Dick Alen, told People that Little Richard died on May 9, in Nashville, of bone cancer.
“He was living with his brother in Nashville,” Alen said.
“He was battling for a good while, many years. 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.”
Little Richard’s breakthrough moment came with his hit single ‘Tutti Frutti’ in 1956 – a track that was later covered by Elvis Presley, who called Little Richard “the greatest” – followed by dozens more, including ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Rip It Up’, ‘Lucille’ and ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’.
Without a doubt – musically, vocally and visually – he was my biggest influence. Seeing him live in my teens was the most exciting event in my life at that point. Goosebumps, electricity and joy came from every pore. pic.twitter.com/Enno1mgfTO
— Elton John (@eltonofficial) May 9, 2020
“Thank you all very much, especially the rock’n'rollers, and Little Richard – it was all his fault really.” George Harrison at @thebeatles induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. #RIPLittleRichard pic.twitter.com/VE70pKAZcv
— George Harrison (@GeorgeHarrison) May 10, 2020
Little Richard quickly became known for his energised piano performances, six-inch bouffant hair, mascara and moustache.
He was open about his struggles reconciling his sexuality with his Christian faith, at one point leaving music to study theology and become a minister.
Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Carole King are among the stars who have paid tribute to the queer Black icon.
— Carole King (@Carole_King) May 9, 2020
RIP "Little Richard"
Jimi Hendrix was a member of Little Richard's backing bands "Royal Company" and "Upsetters." In addition to touring, Hendrix recorded on the "I Don't Know What You've Got But It's Got Me" & "Dancing All Around The World" singles#LittleRichard #JimiHendrix pic.twitter.com/UjK3KeyYjz
— Jimi Hendrix (@JimiHendrix) May 9, 2020
I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved. He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do.
— Bob Dylan (@bobdylan) May 9, 2020
Emmy-winning director and filmmaker Ava DuVernay also shared a touching tribute: “I served soul food brunch to Little Richard every Sunday for a year while waitressing at Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch in LA.
“I was a college student. He tipped me a crisp $100 bill each week on a $75 breakfast with friends.
“This was 30 years ago. Helped me so much. God rest his soul.”
So sad Little Richard passed away. He married my husband and I. He was really one of the truely great rock and roll singers and one of the rock and roll pioneers. He will be missed????
— Cyndi Lauper (@cyndilauper) May 9, 2020
Former First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute, praising Little Richard’s “exuberance, his creativity, and his refusal to be anything other than himself”.
“Little Richard laid the foundation for generations of artists to follow,” she said. “We are so lucky to have had him. Sending all my love to his family and friends today.”
To my dear Richard,
You're a true original, you broke all the rules and you weren’t afraid to show it. A magnificent talent and an inspiration to so many of us.
My heart goes out to your loved ones, RIP my friend. pic.twitter.com/yRJoSUDk2I
— Tom Jones (@RealSirTomJones) May 9, 2020