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Little Richard, Lynchburg resident and rock and roll architect, dies at 87

Posted on Thursday, May 14, 2020 at 1:55 pm

By David Knox

One of Lynchburg’s most famous residents has died.

Richard Wayne Penniman – better known as Little Richard – died Saturday at the age of 87. The cause of death was reported to be bone cancer. He passed away with family members by his side at a relative’s home in Tullahoma.

Little Richard, often called one of the pioneers of rock and roll, was an inaugural member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He took rhythm and blues music and elevated it with an electrifying jolt, pounding the piano furiously and howling raucous lyrics at the top of his voice.

He had hits – “Tutti Frutti,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Lucille” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” to name a few – but his influence went far beyond hit records. As disparate artists as Bob Dylan and The Beatles were affected by “The architect of Rock and Roll,” The Beatles among the many acts who covered his songs. His flamboyant style was most reflected in James Brown and, later, Prince. His appeal crossed racial lines.

Locals took to Facebook to post remembrances and give their condolences. Almost all of the comments were about how friendly and humble he was, and many of them mentioned him giving them religious tracts.

County Clerk Nancy Hatfield had dealings with him over the years.

“Little Richard was a special person,” she said. “The last few years he hasn’t been able to come inside the courthouse because of his health. He never really got over breaking his hip. He would have one of his guards come get me so he could conduct his business himself. Of course, his business would turn into a long conversation. I always enjoyed talking to him. He would always say a prayer for me before he left.”

He also visited the courthouse to pay his taxes, Trustee Lynn Harrison said.

“Just talked to his family on Monday it was always such a pleasure when he visited me to pay his taxes. I think every time he came as he left he told me how great it was to talk and then he always said look to Jesus no matter how rough life is. Many times, he told me stories of his life…. he was a blessing to chat with.

“You are no longer in pain, my friend, rest well and now you will stroll all over Heaven singing as you told me.”