“Good Golly Miss Molly”, Little Richard has died. The Rock and Roll pioneer died May 9, 2020 in Tullahoma, Tennessee as a result of bone cancer at the age of 87.
A flamboyant performer, Little Richard was out of the closet before the rest of the world even knew the closet existed.
Known for his high pitched singing and pounding piano, Little Richard changed the face of music when he introduced what was then known as “Black Music” to white audiences. He sold over 30 million records and influenced dozens of artists from The Beatles to David Bowie. He earned the name Little Richard as a child because he was rather small.
“Wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom”, Little Richard burst onto the scene in 1956 with “Tutti-Frutti” and put Rock and Roll on its head. It wasn’t long before teens across the country and around the world were bopping to hits like “Lucille”, “Keep a Knockin’”, “Long Tall Sally”, and “Good Golly Miss Molly”.
Little Richard was once quoted as saying that Elvis Presley may be the king of rock and roll, but he is the queen.
As a rock pioneer, Little Richard was among the inaugural class of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees along with Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, James Brown, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Alan Freed, John Hammond, Robert Johnson, Sam Phillips, Jimmie Rodgers, Sam Cooke, and Jimmy Yancey. Other accomplishments include a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Recording Academy and the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. Along with induction into the Rock Hall, Little Richard is a member of the Georgia Music, the NAACP Image Award, and the American Songwriters, the Apollo Theater, the Louisiana Music, The Blues, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Halls of Fame.
He was born Richard Wayne Penniman on December 5, 1932 in Macon, Georgia; one of 12 children where he grew up singing in the church, playing the piano, the saxophone, and playing in the school marching band. He began performing with bands in his early teens including sharing the stage on one occasion with Sister Rosetta Tharpe. After running away from home, he joined a minstrel show where he sometimes appeared in drag.
Constantly in conflict with his religious upbringing, sexuality, and rock and roll; Little Richard left the world of rock in 1957 to join the seminary and get married to Ernestine Campbell.
After a 1962 arrest, he got a divorce and made a return to rock and roll.
Before becoming a rock and roll pioneering star in his own right, Jimi Hendrix performed in Little Richard’s band.
After relaunching his career in the seventies, Little Richard disappeared again and made a return to religion, denying his sexuality and to recover from a drug habit.
The film “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brought Little Richard out of hiding and back into the limelight.
His music appears on over 200 film and television productions including “Hunters”, “Better Call Saul”, “The Smurfs 2”, “The Expendables 2”, “Cold Case”, “The Simpsons”, “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”, “The Wonder Years”, “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures”, “Quantum Leap”, “Road House”, “Moonlighting”, “Mask”, “The Right Stuff”, “WKRP in Cincinnatti”, and a number of competition reality shows.
Little Richard also appeared as an actor in a couple of dozen productions including “NightMan”, “The Drew Carey Show”, “Baywatch”, “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventures” TV series, “Down and Out in Beverly Hills”, and “Miami Vice”; as well as portraying himself in numerous variety, documentary, talk, and awards shows.
He retired from touring in 2002 but continued to make appearances on television.
Little Richard’s survivors include his son Danny.
Little Richard’s discography:
“Here’s Little Richard”
“Clap Your Hands”
“Pray Along with Little Richard, Vol. 1: A Closer Walk with Thee”
“Pray Along with Little Richard, Vol. 2: I’m Quitting Show Business”
“King of the Gospel Singers”
“Little Richard with Sister Rosetta Tharpe”
“Little Richard is Back (and There’s a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On!)”
“The Wild and Frantic Little Richard”
The Explosive Little Richard”
“Rock N Roll Forever”
“Good Golly Miss Molly”
“Rock Hard Rock Heavy”
“Little Richard” (1970)
“The Rill Thing”
“King of Rock and Roll”
“Historic Figures and Ancient Heads”
“The Second Coming”
“You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”
“Talkin’ ‘Bout Soul”
“Keep a Knockin’”
“Little Richard Live”
“Shake it All About”
“Best of Little Richard”
Feature photo credit: By Anna Bleker – Own work (Original text: self-made), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74918108