Little Richard, Early Rock ‘n’ Roll Pioneer, Dies at 87

The legendary singer and pianist scored early rock hits with “Tutti Frutti,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Long Tall Sally”

little richard
Little Richard in 1956 (Getty Images)

Little Richard, the singer and pianist who became a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer with his high-energy musicianship and boundary-pushing personality, died Saturday at age 87.

The artist’s son, Danny Penniman, confirmed the death to Rolling Stone. The cause of death was not immediately known.

Born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Georgia, he got his start performing as a teenager in local talent competitions before landing his first record contract with RCA in 1951 at age 19.

His first big hit, 1955’s “Tutti Frutti,” was one of the first songs by a black artist to cross over to the pop charts — and help set the stage for a career that would influence a wide range of genres from rock to soul to funk. Artists as varied as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Prince all credited Richard as an influence.

In the mid-’50s, Richard produced a series of hit songs like “Long Tall Sally,” “Rip It Up,” “Keep a Knockin’,” “Good Golly Miss Molly” and “Lucille” that got a boost from his frenetic piano playing and raspy singing voice. He also gained fame — and occasional criticism — for high high-energy performing style and often androgynous appearance.

He sold more than 30 million records worldwide, according to the Associated Press.

In 1986, he became one of the original inductees into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, along with Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and others. He was also inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993.

“I am the architect of rock ‘n’ roll!” he proclaimed at the 1988 Grammy Awards ceremony. “And I am the originator! And I still say, ‘Woooo!’”