The music of Little Richard, who died on Saturday at the age of 87, was one of the genuine architects of not only rock and roll but R&B, soul, hip-hop and other genres as well. Few artists can truly be said to have directly inspired the Beatles, James Brown, the Rolling Stones, Prince and countless others; his songs, sound and often underrated singing are such a DNA-level foundation of modern music that many recent generations of superstars probably aren’t even aware that the flourishes in their singing styles or the samples in their songs originated with him. Even Bob Dylan — whose music bears few obvious traces of Richard’s sound — wrote in his high school yearbook that his goal was to “join Little Richard.”
Dylan was one of the many artists paying tribute to the legendary musician on Saturday, ranging range from Ringo Starr and Mick Jagger to Michelle Obama and Elton John to Spike Lee (who posted a TV commercial he directed with Richard and Michael Jordan) and Cyndi Lauper (at whose wedding Richard was pastor); from Public Enemy’s Chuck D (who cites a Richard reference in P.E.’s 1989 classic “Fight the Power”) and Ava DuVernay (who remembers getting a generous weekly tip from him while she was a struggling waitress) to even New York Senator Chuck Schumer, whose Little Richard influence is perhaps less evident.
In a series of tweets Saturday afternoon, Dylan wrote, “I just heard the news about Little Richard and I’m so grieved. He was 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. 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.”
Mick Jagger wrote, “I’m so saddened to hear about the passing of Little Richard. He was the biggest inspiration of my early teens and 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 50’s. When we were on tour with him, I would watch his moves every night.”
Fellow rock pioneer Jerry Lee Lewis said in a statement, “It is with a heavy heart that I ask for prayers for the family of my lifelong friend and fellow Rocker ‘Little Richard.’ 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. God Bless his family and fans. Rest In Peace, my friend.”