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Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard dead at 87

Rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard, born Richard Penniman, has died aged 87.

He died of bone cancer on Saturday morning in Tullahoma, Tennesse, The New York Times reports.

The flamboyant American singer and pianist’s hit songs of the mid-1950s were defining moments in the development of rock and roll.

Born into a family of 12 children, Penniman learned gospel music in Pentecostal churches of the Deep South.

He left home in his teens to perform rhythm and blues in nightclubs where he took the name “Little Richard”.

His breakthrough came in September 1955 at a recording session at J & M Studio in New Orleans, Louisiana, where Little Richard, backed by a rhythm-and-blues band, performed “Tutti Frutti”.

In the year and a half that followed, he released a number of hits on Specialty Records: “Rip It Up,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Ready Teddy,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” and “Send Me Some Lovin’,” among others.

Little Richard’s music combined childish lyrics with sexually suggestive undertones.

Along with Elvis Presley’s records in the mid-1950s, Little Richard’s music has inspired rock musicians ever since.

At the peak of his fame, however, he concluded that rock and roll was the Devil’s work.

He abandoned the music business, enrolled in Bible college, and became a travelling Evangelical preacher.

When The Beatles rocketed onto the music scene in 1964, they sang several of his classic songs and openly acknowledged their debt to him.

This inspired Little Richard to return to the stage and the recording studio, recording new song “Bama Lama Bama Loo” in 1964.

A major recording contract in the early 1970s produced three albums – The Rill Thing, King of Rock ’n’ Roll, and Second Coming.

Little Richard continued to appear at concerts and festivals until 2013, when he announced his retirement.

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