At his peak in the 1950s and early ’60s, Richard shouted, moaned, screamed and trilled hits like “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly, Miss Molly” and “Lucille,” all the while pounding the piano like a mad man and punctuating lyrics with an occasional shrill “whoooo!”
Time magazine said he played “songs that sounded like nonsense … but whose beat seemed to hint of unearthly pleasures centered somewhere between the gut and the gutter.”
The music drew in both young black and white fans at a time when parts of the United States still were strictly segregated. Many white artists, such as Pat Boone, had their own hit versions of Richard’s songs, albeit considerably toned down and “safer” for the pop audience.
“I’ve always thought that rock ‘n’ roll brought the races together,” Richard once told an interviewer. “Although I was black, the fans didn’t care. I used to feel good about that.”
Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, James Brown, Otis Redding, David Bowie and Rod Stewart all cited Little Richard as an influence. Jimi Hendrix, who played in Richard’s band in the mid-1960s, said he wanted to use his guitar the way Richard used his voice.