Tributes pour in for queer Black icon and rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Little Richard, who ‘laid the foundation for generations of artists to follow’

Little Richard: Tributes pour in after death of queer Black icon

Tributes from the world’s biggest musicians are pouring in for gay Black artist Little Richard, who has died aged 87.

The flamboyant pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll, who inspired a generation of musicians including The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix, was born in Georgia in 1932.

He had been struggling with his health for several years, having had hip problems, a stroke and a heart attack.

Confirming his death in a statement, his agent of 40 years, Dick Alen, told People that Little Richard died on May 9, in Nashville, of bone cancer.

“He was living with his brother in Nashville,” Alen said.

“He was battling for a good while, many years. I last spoke to him about two or three weeks ago. I knew he wasn’t well but he never really got into it, he just would say ‘I’m not well.’

“He’s been suffering for many years with various aches and pains. He just wouldn’t talk about it much.”

Little Richard’s breakthrough moment came with his hit single ‘Tutti Frutti’ in 1956 – a track that was later covered by Elvis Presley, who called Little Richard “the greatest” – followed by dozens more, including ‘Long Tall Sally’, ‘Rip It Up’, ‘Lucille’ and ‘Good Golly, Miss Molly’.

Little Richard quickly became known for his energised piano performances, six-inch bouffant hair, mascara and moustache.

He was open about his struggles reconciling his sexuality with his Christian faith, at one point leaving music to study theology and become a minister.

The original lyrics to ‘Tutti Frutti’ were about anal sex – “If it don’t fit, don’t force it / You can grease it, make it easy” – and weren’t included on the record.

Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Carole King are among the stars who have paid tribute to the queer Black icon.

Emmy-winning director and filmmaker Ava DuVernay also shared a touching tribute: “I served soul food brunch to Little Richard every Sunday for a year while waitressing at Aunt Kizzy’s Back Porch in LA.

“I was a college student. He tipped me a crisp $100 bill each week on a $75 breakfast with friends.

“This was 30 years ago. Helped me so much. God rest his soul.”

Former First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute, praising Little Richard’s “exuberance, his creativity, and his refusal to be anything other than himself”.

“Little Richard laid the foundation for generations of artists to follow,” she said. “We are so lucky to have had him. Sending all my love to his family and friends today.”