'He hit us like a bolt of lightning': stars pay tribute to Little Richard

Among tributes to Little Richard, the rock’n’roll pioneer who died on Saturday aged 87, came praise for his songwriting, his musicianship, his audacious style, his status as a key figure in African American history – and his work as a minister who married celebrity couples.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Page, Brian Wilson, Patti Smith, Carole King and Steven van Zandt were among musicians to pay tribute.

Bob Dylan wrote an impassioned series of tweets about the man he called “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,” Dylan said. “I played some shows with him in Europe in the early nineties 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.”

Bryan Ferry, the lead singer of the art pop band Roxy Music, spoke for the sense of awe Richard inspired in many aspiring rockers when he gained fame in the late 1950s, telling the Guardian: “He hit me and the rest of my generation like a bolt of lightning.”

On social media, Jagger, 76, called Richard “the biggest inspiration of my early teens”, and said “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.

“When [the Rolling Stones] were on tour with him I would watch his moves every night and learn from him how to entertain and involve the audience.” Jagger’s bandmate Richards said: “There will never be another. He was the true spirit of rock‘n’roll,” while Ron Wood said: “I shall miss him, God bless Little Richard ~ rest in peace.”

Jerry Lee Lewis, 85, said: “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.”

All agreed Richard, whose real name was Richard Penniman, was a pioneer of rock’n’roll, classed with the true greats of the genre.

“RIP Little Richard,” said Van Zandt, a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and an actor in the The Sopranos. “The man who invented rock’n’roll. Elvis [Presley] popularized it. Chuck Berry was the storyteller. Richard was the archetype.”

Bruno Mars lit a Richard-branded candle on Instagram with the caption “love you Little Richard”, while the Oscar-winning film director Spike Lee said “Rest In Peace To One Of The True Creators Of Rock And Roll” and added a reference to“The Commercial I Directed With Little Richard And Michael Jordan, 1991.”

Another director, the Emmy-winner Ava DuVernay, wrote: “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.”

The former first lady Michelle Obama praised 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.”

Tom Jones posted footage to Twitter of him and Richard performing Rip It Up on television together in 1970, saying Richard “broke all the rules and you weren’t afraid to show it”.

Other musicians acknowledged his influence on the music that came in the wake of the rock’n’roll he played.

Joan Jett called him “the original glam rocker, and he took a lot of abuse for being in the first wave. He forged a path for all of us who followed.”

Some artists, meanwhile, tweeted about how Richard married them, in his second and perhaps at first glance unlikely career as a Christian minister.

“Maureen and I were so honored being the first marriage he conducted,” said Van Zandt. “We were lucky to know him. He lives forever in the Underground Garage.”

The singer Cyndi Lauper wrote: “So sad Little Richard passed away. He married my husband and I. He was really one of the truly great rock and roll singers and one of the rock and roll pioneers. He will be missed.”

Richards officiated Tom Petty’s second marriage, to Dana York. A statement posted to the Twitter account for Petty, who died in 2017, said “having him there that day filled him and everyone in attendance with joy, awe and delight”.


Martin Pengelly and Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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