Little Richard, whose outrageous showmanship and lightning-fast rhythms intoxicated crowds in the 1950s with hits like Tutti Frutti and Long Tall Sally, has died. He was 87.Citing the rock ‘n’ roll pioneer’s son, Rolling Stone magazine said on Saturday that the cause of death was unknown. Tributes quickly poured in, with co-founder of Chic Nile Rodgers calling it “the loss of a true giant”. With a distinctive voice that ranged from robust belting to howling falsetto, Richard transfixed audiences and became an inspiration for artists, including The Beatles, as he transformed the blues into the feverish new style of rock ‘n’ roll alongside Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.Also read: From roots to branchesHis raunchy 1955 song Tutti Frutti, even with its gay sex theme toned down for radio, became a sort of opening salvo of rock ‘n’ roll’s entry into American life, starting with his nonsensical but instantly thrilling first line: Awop bop a loo mop/Alop bam boom.But if his contemporaries kept the respectabilities of old-time musicians, Richard stunned buttoned-down post-Second World War America with an otherworldly look of blindingly colourful shirts, glass-embedded dinner jackets, a needle-thin moustache and a 15-cm-high pompadour haircut.A consummate entertainer since his childhood, Richard would play piano with one leg hoisted over the keys and, in one legendary concert in Britain, played dead on stage so effectively that the venue sought out medical help before he resurrected himself to an astounded crowd.Richard was one of rock’s most torn personas and he never became an obvious icon for the African-American or gay communities.Once open by the standards of his time about his attraction to men, Richard became a born-again Christian and renounced homosexuality, treating it as a temporary choice in a manner that is anathema to the modern gay rights movement and psychologists. And a younger generation of black DJs had little interest in an artist seen as embedded in the white mainstream.
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