Little Richard, Flamboyant Wild Man of Rock ’n’ Roll, Dies at 87

Little Richard, Flamboyant Wild Man of Rock ’n’ Roll, Dies at 87
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Little Richard in performance at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York in 2007. “He was crucial,” one historian said, “in upping the voltage from high-powered R&B into the similar, yet different, guise of rock ’n’ roll.”Little Richard in performance at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York in 2007. “He was crucial,” one historian said, “in upping the voltage from high-powered R&B into the similar, yet different, guise of rock ’n’ roll.”Little Richard in performance at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill in New York in 2007. “He was crucial,” one historian said, “in upping the voltage from high-powered R&B into the similar, yet different, guise of rock ’n’ roll.”

Richard Penniman, better known as Little Richard, who combined the sacred shouts of the black church and the profane sounds of the blues to create some of the world’s first and most influential rock ’n’ roll records, died on Saturday morning in Tullahoma, Tenn. He was 87.

His lawyer, Bill Sobel, said the cause was bone cancer.

Little Richard did not invent rock ’n’ roll. Other musicians had already been mining a similar vein by the time he recorded his first hit, “Tutti Frutti” — a raucous song about sex, its lyrics cleaned up but its meaning hard to miss — in a New Orleans recording studio in September 1955. Chuck Berry and Fats Domino had reached the pop Top 10, Bo Diddley had topped the rhythm-and-blues charts, and Elvis Presley had been making records for a year.

But Little Richard, delving deeply into the wellsprings of gospel music and the blues, pounding the piano furiously and screaming as if for his very life, raised the energy level several notches and created something not quite like any music that had been heard before — something new, thrilling and more than a little dangerous. As the rock historian Richie Unterberger put it, “He was crucial in upping the voltage from high-powered R&B into the similar, yet different, guise of rock ’n’ roll.”

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