Little Richard, a pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll, died Saturday at the age of 87 in Nashville, Tennessee. He will be laid to rest Wednesday on the campus of his alma mater, Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama.
His real name was Richard Wayne Penniman, and he was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1932. Influenced by gospel music, Little Richard’s professional music career began when Sister Rosetta Tharp heard him singing her songs when he was 14.
Throughout a hit-filled career that spanned nearly seven decades, Little Richard’s flamboyant personality combined with his unmatched talent and professionalism to take him to the heights of pop music fame. His songs were covered by everyone from Elvis Presley and the Beatles to the Rolling Stones, and among the many musicians who played in his band were Jimmi Hendrix.
Vicksburg native and guitarist Mark Doyle played with Little Richard for 16 years and was with him for his last live show in 2013.
“It was a ride,” Doyle said, calling him “the man who started it all.”
Doyle recounted where the famous opening phrase “A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom” in Little Richard’s first hit, “Tutti Frutti,” came from. The phrase is a stand in, he said, for more explicit phrasing.
“The record company got him to tone it down so it could be introduced to the public,” Doyle said. “You know, he just couldn’t, really couldn’t say what he wanted to say. It was kind of a dirtier version … and that’s what you got.”
David “Ranger” Adams is a professional audio and stage engineer who lives in Vicksburg. He toured with Little Richard numerous times through the years. Adams was shocked when he heard the news of Little Richard’s passing.
“I got one of my first opportunities to tour Europe thanks to him,” Adams said, “mainly because I had a passport. He was a good, kind-hearted man who looked out for his crew.”
Adams went on to say that it was a privilege to work with one of the architects of rock ‘n’ roll. He called Little Richard’s high-energy shows “amazing,” saying that they brought people of all ages and races together.
“Little Richard used his platform to deliver a message about faith,” Adams added. In their conversations in recent years, Little Richard spoke of waiting on Jesus.
“I am proud to have been a part of some extraordinary events and truly glad for the opportunity to know the man off-stage,” he said.
Thomas Parker and David Day contributed to this story.See a typo? Report it here.