Little Richard, the king and queen of rock rolled into one
He had an unmatched stage presence, influenced a generation, and battled to reconcile his sexuality with his faith
Little Richard, who has died aged 87, inspired generations of musicians from Elvis Presley, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Michael Jackson and Prince, with his outrageous, sexually charged music – a blend of rhythm and blues, gospel and rock ’n’ roll, howled in a wild, falsetto shriek and accompanied by his explosive piano playing; he was also the only man ever to claim to be “the King and Queen of rock ’n’ roll”.
His stage performances could, as he put it, make “your liver quiver, your bladder splatter and your knees freeze”. While not everyone experienced all these symptoms during his extraordinary live shows (Richard’s androgynous poses, with pompadour and exaggerated eye makeup, alienated some among his potential audience), in the fiercely competitive atmosphere of the 1950s he seemed able to produce classic hit singles such as Lucille, Long Tall Sally and Good Golly Miss Molly almost at will. Tutti Frutti, in particular, became an anthem of teenage rebellion with its powerful, if semantically challenging, opening line: “Awop-bopa-loobop Alop-bamboom!”
Despite his gifts as a singer of blues and gospel, Richard’s characteristic vocal style, and that most appreciated by his fans, was his frenzied falsetto. Although not the most fastidious of pianists where technique and phrasing were concerned, he was undoubtedly the fastest – and the loudest (on several occasions beating the keyboard with such ferocity as to break 80-gauge piano strings)...