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Rock 'n Roll legend Little Richard dies at 87

The architect of rock and roll music has died.

MACON, Ga. — Editor's Note: The lead video in this story is from a Dec. 2019 party in Macon commemorating Penniman's birthday.

Little Richard died in his Nashville home Saturday at the age of 87.

That's according to a report by Rolling Stone who cites the musician’s son, Danny Penniman.

Born as Richard Wayne Penniman on Dec. 5, 1932, he grew up in a house in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood in Macon.

He gained most of his fame in the 50s and 60s belting out tunes like "Good Golly Miss Molly," wearing dazzling costumes and pounding on his piano, but there was a long road to his international success…

Early career

His religious upbringing is credited as what ultimately introduced him to music, according to Charles White, the official biographer of Little Richard.

An Atlanta Journal Constitution article says Sister Rosetta Tharpe overheard Penniman singing before her show at the Macon City Auditorium in fall 1947 and asked him to open for her.

Then, in 1950, Penniman joined his first band – Buster Brown’s Orchestra – where he received the moniker Little Richard.

Over the next few years (and a few singles released under RCA Victor), Richard went on to release one of his most recognizable singles, ‘Tutti Frutti,’ in 1955 and it became an instant hit in America and the UK.

His live performances in this period of his career were known for being high-energy and for having the power to integrate an audience in an era known for segregated venues.

Richard relocated to California after the release of ‘Tutti Frutti’ and then ventured in gospel music in the 1960s.

Return to rock

By 1962, he was opening for The Beatles and the Rolling Stones and in 1964, made his full return to rock and roll music.

That same year, Jimi Hendrix joined Richard's band leading to the R&B hit, "I Don't Know What You've Got (But It's Got Me)."

Later that decade, he successfully booked residencies in Las Vegas, major music festivals and talk shows sparking a renewed interest in his music, which culminated in the release of single "Freedom Blues."

Later career

In 1984, he was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame and then into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 in its first class of inductees.

Though he never won a competitive Grammy, he did receive the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, one year after releasing his final studio album.

Impact

The music he released throughout the 1950s and 60s had an indelible influence on other famous Georgia musicians like Otis Redding and James Brown, with Redding starting his professional career in Little Richard’s band, The Upsetters.

Bob Dylan also first performed covers of Penniman’s songs in high school and Jimi Hendrix was quoted as saying, "I want to do with my guitar what Little Richard does with his voice."

Other rock legends like Bob Seger and John Fogerty cited him as an influence, and Michael Jackson said his album ‘Off the Wall’ was inspired by Penniman.

Childhood home

In 2013, Penniman's childhood home in Macon's Pleasant Hill neighborhood became a topic of conversation as plans were revealed for it to be moved and converted into a neighborhood resource center.

In 2018, Bibb County commissioners cut the program's budget from $96,000 to $10,000, leading to Richard calling them and begging for them to fund it.

“I hope that and I expect you guys to keep it. I hope they do whatever they could because that home for me is for everybody to enjoy,” said Richard. 

The commission relented and six years after plans were announced, the center finally opened in March 2019.

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