Little Richard, the high-pompadoured singer, songwriter and pianist whose explosive performances set early rock n' roll afire, has died at age 87. His rep confirmed to Billboard he passed away Saturday (May 9) morning in Tullahoma, Tenn. of bone cancer. The news was first reported by Rolling Stone, as confirmed by his son Danny Penniman.
Little Richard called himself "the architect of rock n' roll," and as much as he loved hyperbole and self-promotion, he was pretty much right. His musical career extended over seven decades, but he created the blueprint for the genre -- and for its most glorious excesses -- in just more than two years at its beginning. He spent much of the rest of his life torn between the earthy impulses that brought him fame and the church that never stopped calling to him.
Born in Macon, Georgia, on Dec. 5, 1932, Richard Penniman grew up listening to gospel -- he particularly idolized Sister Rosetta Tharpe -- and started performing on the chitlin' circuit in his teens, including a stint as "Princess Lavonne" in a dress and heels. He recorded a handful of likeable blues tracks in the early '50s, but his breakthrough didn't come until the second day of his debut recording session for Specialty Records in September, 1955.