Rock and Roll Legend Little Richard Dies at 87
By Tess Farrand, Associate Content Editor
Little Richard died on Saturday May 9, 2020 of cancer. Richard was 87 years old.
“I owe a lot of what I do to Little Richard and his style; and he knew it,” said Paul McCartney on Twitter. “He would say, ‘I taught Paul everything he knows.’ I had to admit he was right.”
From ‘Tutti Frutti’ to ‘Long Tall Sally’ to ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’ to ‘Lucille’, Little Richard came screaming into my life when I was a teenager. I owe a lot of what I do to Little Richard and his style; and he knew it. He would say, ‘I taught Paul everything he knows’. pic.twitter.com/96bOzphhs8
— Paul McCartney (@PaulMcCartney) May 10, 2020
Richard’s legendary performances were just as iconic as his Christian faith.
According to Rolling Stone:
In 1964, with his gospel music career floundering, Little Richard returned to secular rock. Although none of the albums and singles he cut over the next decade for a variety of labels sold well, he was welcomed back by a new generation of rockers, including the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan (who played Little Richard songs on the piano when he was a kid). When Little Richard played the Star-Club in Hamburg in the early Sixties, the opening act was none other than the Beatles. “We used to stand backstage at Hamburg’s Star-Club and watch Little Richard play,” John Lennon said later. “He used to read from the Bible backstage and just to hear him talk we’d sit around and listen. I still love him and he’s one of the greatest.”
But then, the hits stopped, by his own choice. After what he interpreted as signs — a plane engine that seemed to be on fire and a dream about the end of the world and his own damnation — [Little Richard] gave up music in 1957 and began attending the Alabama Bible school Oakwood College, where he was eventually ordained a minister. When he finally cut another album, in 1959, the result was a gospel set called God Is Real
Richard’s faith can be traced to his roots in the Deep South’s Bible Belt.
As Rolling Stone reported:
Born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5th, 1932, in Macon, Georgia, he was one of 12 children and grew up around uncles who were preachers. “I was born in the slums. My daddy sold whiskey, bootleg whiskey,” he told Rolling Stone in 1970. Although he sang in a nearby church, his father Bud wasn’t supportive of his son’s music and accused him of being gay, resulting in [Little Richard] Penniman leaving home at 13 and moving in with a white family in Macon. But, music stayed with him: One of his boyhood friends was Otis Redding, and [Little Richard] Penniman heard R&B, blues, and country while working at a concession stand at the Macon City Auditorium.
After performing at the Tick Tock Club in Macon and winning a local talent show, [Little Richard] Penniman landed his first record deal, with RCA, in 1951. (He became “Little Richard” when he about 15 years old, when the R&B and blues worlds were filled with acts like Little Esther and Little Milton; he had also grown tired with people mispronouncing his last name as “Penny-man.”) He learned his distinctive piano style from Esquerita, a South Carolina singer and pianist who also wore his hair in a high black pompadour.
As Richard’s career progressed, his work gained the attention of fellow rocker and friend of Movieguide® Pat Boone, among others like the Beatles.
However, Richard seemed to struggle with his desire to perform Christian-centric songs or secular rock and roll, but his faith was always a constant.
As a minister, Richard officiated the weddings of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore along with pop diva and “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” singer Cyndi Lauper.
Little Richard also provided the theme song to the children’s TV series, THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS.
RIP to the Georgia legend Little Richard… how many knew he gave us the theme song to Magic School Bus? pic.twitter.com/NgSVjTK36m
— Everything Georgia (@GAFollowers) May 10, 2020
“I talk about my life as a homosexual and a drug addict because I think it is right to tell people what God has done for me,” Richard said in his memoir.
CBN followed more of Richard’s thoughts about the Gospel from Charles White’s biography.
“Regardless of whatever you are, He loves you. I don’t care what you are. He loves you and He can save you. All you’ve got to do is say, ‘Lord, take me as I am. I’m a sinner.’ But, we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
Richard continued, “The only holy, righteous person is Jesus, and He wants us to be just like Him because, in order to go to Heaven, we’ve got to look like Him.”