The music world is in mourning following Saturday’s news that rock ‘n’ roll’s founding father, Little Richard, has died from cancer at age 87. The wild-eyed, flamboyant piano showman, born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Ga., paved the way for everyone from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Elton John, David Bowie, and Prince, and social media has been flooded with tributes to his incredible, indelible legacy.
“I’m so saddened to hear about the passing of Little Richard. He was the biggest inspiration of my early teens and his music still has the same raw electric energy when you play it now as it did when it first shot through the music scene in the mid-‘50s,” Stones frontman Mick Jagger tweeted. “When we were on tour with him I would watch his movies every night and learn from him how to entertain and involve the audience and he was always so generous with advice to me. He contributed so much to popular music.”
Other rock stars of the ‘60s and ‘70s who owe Richard a massive debt have chimed in. The Beatles’ Ringo Starr called Richard one of his “all-time musical heroes”; Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page tweeted, “It’s Little Richard’s songs that pioneered rock ‘n’ roll”; the Kinks’ Dave Davies called Richard an “immense inspiration”; and the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson tweeted, “He was there at the beginning and showed us all how to rock and roll. He was a such a great talent and will be missed. Little Richard’s music will last forever.” Bowie’s son, Duncan Jones, tweeted, “From what my dad told me about his love of this legend growing up, it’s very likely he would not have taken the path he did without the huge influence of Little Richard. One of the highest of the high.”
Bob Dylan posted in a series of tweets, “He was my shining star and guiding light back when I was only a little boy. His was the original spirit that moved me to do everything I would do. I played some shows with him in Europe in the early ‘90s and got to hang out in his dressing room a lot. He was always generous, kind and humble. And still dynamite as a performer and a musician and you could still learn plenty from him. In his presence he was always the same Little Richard that I first heard and was awed by growing up and I always was the same little boy. Of course he’ll live forever. But it’s like a part of your life is gone.”
“Without a doubt — musically, vocally and visually — he was my biggest influence,” Elton John wrote on Instagram. “Seeing him live in my teens was the most exciting event in my life at that point. Goosebumps, electricity and joy came from every pore. His records still sound fresh and the opening few seconds of ‘Tutti Frutti’ are the most explosive in music history. I was lucky enough to work with him for my Duets album in 1993. He was shy and funny and I was SO nervous. The track we recorded ‘The Power’ is a favorite in my catalogue. We also played live at the Beverly Hilton and I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven. He influenced so many and is irreplaceable. A true legend, icon and a force of nature.”
Admirers from all decades and musical genres took to social media to pay homage. Richard’s 1950s contemporary, Jerry Lee Lewis, additionally said in a statement: “It is with a heavy heart that I ask for prayers for the family of my lifelong friend and fellow rocker ‘Little Richard.’ He will live on always in my heart with his amazing talent and his friendship! He was one of a kind and I will miss him dearly. God bless his family and fans. Rest in peace, my friend.” Meanwhile, 27-year-old Grammy-winner Chance the Rapper confessed that he’d only recently fully grasped Richard’s importance, tweeting, “A couple weeks ago I randomly decided to read up on the legendary Little Richard on Wiki. I learned then about how he developed the Beatles and saved the Rolling Stones.”
Public Enemy’s Chuck D stated, “There hasn’t been anything close to his volcanic explosion of talent into forming Rock and Roll in the 1950s.” Questlove wrote on Instagram, “The King Of Rock And Roll. Zero Questions. … Not ARCHITECT not PIONEER. not HITMAKER. This man was literally THE BLUEPRINT of all the world took from. LITTLE RICHARD is THE TRUE KING. LONG LIVE THE KING.” And Living Colour’s Vernon Reid said, “No Jimi, No Beatles No Bowie, No Bolan. NO GLAM, No Freddie, No Prince, No Elton, No Preston No Sly, No Stevie, WITHOUT Little Richard! They DON’T HAPPEN Without HIM BLAZING A TRAIL IN THE DARK in sequence, if he had his SHIRT ON AT ALL, AT THE PIANO, SCREAMING LIKE A WHITE WOMAN.”
Gender-benders of the ‘80s like Culture Club’s Boy George and Soft Cell’s Marc Almond also noted Richard’s lasting impact, with Almond writing, “Such a great look. Fantastic life. The Stones, the Beatles, Prince, Bowie, everybody really owes a musical debt. One time trans, next minute preacher, all time rock ‘n’ roller. … A total legend, influenced Bowie and everybody who mixed rock ‘n’ roll and blues with glitter and ambi-sexuality. Outrageous… goodbye Little Richard. There’s a brighter star tonight.”
Additionally, everyone from filmmaker Ava DuVernay to Prince protégé Tevin Campbell shared personal anecdotes of Richard’s kindness and generosity, and Steven Van Zandt, Demi Moore, and Cyndi Lauper reminisced about Richard officiating their respective wedding ceremonies. Actors, directors, and comedians, and political figures ranging from senators Chuck Schumer and Kamala Harris to former first lady Michelle Obama have also paid their respects.